Measure 90, the “Open Primary”: Some facts you might not have considered.

By Barbara Dudley of Portland, Oregon. Barbara is the Senior Policy Adviser to the Working Families Party.

Many people whose opinions I respect have questioned, more or less vociferously, the Working Families Party’s decision to support Measure 90. But I supported that decision because to me it is clear not just that the status quo should change but that the status quo is already changing, dramatically, and it is best to be intentional about the change we want.

For many Oregonians, most significantly including half of the registered voters under 40, the present system isn’t working very well. Young people are disaffected and cynical about electoral politics and only getting more so. We ignore this reality at our peril.

No one is arguing that the passage of Measure 90 will miraculously engage more voters in primary elections, or in any elections, but it does make that a possibility whereas the current system does not. It isn’t working to say to young, unaffiliated or minor party voters, “If you want to participate, just register as a Democrat.” They aren’t doing it. Instead they are deciding that the system is rigged, and from their point of view, it is.

The opponents raise the objection that having the Top Two system will cost more money for party donors and thus bring more money into politics. To translate this, once a Democrat wins a primary in Portland or Eugene, under the current system they don’t have to worry about the general election, often they have no opponent at all, or at most a weak Republican and/or a minor party candidate with no hope of winning. But if two viable candidates go on to the general election, they will have to continue to campaign till the November election. Meaning, they will have to reach out to all those voters who are not registered Democrats. That should not be viewed as a bad thing.

In fact the same people who argue that having a Top Two system would cost political donors more money because they have to reach out to more voters in the general election also argue that it is wrong to have only two candidates emerge from the primaries because only older white voters vote in the primary! You can’t have it both ways.

We in no way dispute the pernicious role of money in politics. Should we move the primary election closer to the general, say to September, as many states have done, to cut down on the cost and on voter fatigue? Absolutely. We would work very hard with anyone who supported that reform. Do we need to introduce other campaign finance reforms as well? You bet! But you can’t argue that a closed primary system which saves donors money because there will be only one viable candidate getting to the November ballot has anything to do with democracy.

At the very least Measure 90 is provoking a little soul searching amongst the Democrats and Republicans and some serious conversation about electoral reform. This by itself is a very good thing. Reasonable people may differ on whether Measure 90 is an improvement over current election law in Oregon, but it helps to know what the current law is and what might change under M90. So in the spirit of having an informed and serious debate on this subject, I offer up a few key facts for the Blue Oregon community to consider:

So what would Measure 90 change?


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