Why vote against Measure 90? Because it's pointless. And unnecessary.

Kyle Curtis Facebook

The argument that the current primary system effectively silences the voices of thousands of voters and therefore requires the passage of Measure 90 does not pass the smell test, especially when it is so easy to change party affiliation in the state of Oregon. Voters' desire for independence or nonpartisan affiliation is not sacrosanct enough to enact a primary system that may result in a general election more susceptible to the influence of outside moneyed interests. And for these reasons, there really is no other option but to Vote No on Measure 90.

Why vote against Measure 90? Because it's pointless. And unnecessary.

Vote No on 90 to prevent this from deciding Oregon elections. (Image care of noonmeasure90.org)

I want to begin this piece with a secret that I rarely share: In 2000, I voted for George W. Bush.

Now, before you react in horror and shout "Shame!" while branding me with some sort of Scarlet Letter, let me provide context. At the time, I was a 21-year old registered Democrat casting a ballot in Washington State's primary. Al Gore was the confirmed Democratic nominee, riding on the coattails of Bill Clinton's successful presidential administration despite an effort by Bill Bradbury Bradley (How embarrassing! Clearly I've been an Oregonian for quite some time!) to challenge from the left. In fact, if memory serves me well, by the time Washington held its spring primary, Bradley had conceded his challenge to Gore, resulting in only one candidate on the ballot for me to "vote" for as the Democratic presidential nominee.

Indeed, the hotly contested race at the time was on the Republican side, between self-proclaimed "maverick" John McCain and Dubya. Too many intelligent people who I respected expressed support for McCain's supposed centrism, enough that I was concerned he would mount more of a serious challenge against Gore in the general election. And Dubya was clearly unfit to be President, so it made much more sense that--instead of wasting my primary vote on the already-confirmed Al Gore--I should do my part to make sure the unelectable George W. Bush made it through to the general. (Smart thinking, that.)

And I was able to (foolishly) cast this vote for Dubya as a registered Democrat. Why? Because, at the time, Washington State had an open primary system. You could walk into the voting booth (the last time I ever used such an arcane form of voting) and could mark your support for any candidate regardless of the party you were registered for.

Of course, primary elections in Washington State are now closed--just as they are in Oregon. Meaning that only party-members get to vote in the spring for the candidate that offers the best chance of wining the election in the fall.

However, just because I'm a Democratic-leaning voter in a closed-primary state does not mean I haven't cast a primary ballot for a Republican in a primary election over the past decade. For example, without a strong primary challenger to incumbent Governor Kulongoski in the 2006 Governor elections, I was much more interested in casting a ballot in that year's Republican primary. As such, I changed my affiliation to cast a ballot for Ron Saxton over arch-conservative Kevin Mannix, ensuring that a Portland-based public schools lawyer would be the Republican standard-bearer in the rural, conservative corners of the state, where each of these three (Portland-based, public schools, lawyer) would make Saxton unpalatable to conservative voters. Major media outlets viewed Kulongoski as a vulnerable candidate, only to express surprise how he easily won re-election on Election Night.

Of course, I'm not taking any sort of credit for Kulongoski's re-election. And changed my party affiliation to cast a ballot in the hotly contested Obama-Hillary primary of 2008.

I'm providing all this background information to illustrate the following point: In Oregon's closed primary system, it is the easiest thing in the world to change your party affiliation o you can cast a vote for the candidate of your choosing in the spring primary. Just how easy is it? A simple call to the Secretary of State's office will inform you that all it takes to change the party your registered with is to fill out a new voter registration form-- which can be accessed either online or at your local County Elections office or at the DMV or at the library or at the many other convenient places where such forms can be accessed--or simply use your Oregon state driver's license or ID to change your party registration with one simple mouse click on the Secretary of State's MyVote website.

Supporters of Measure 90--commonly referred to as the "Top Two" primary initiative--make the claim that Oregon's current closed primary system is "broken" as it effectively locks out thousands of voters who choose not to be affiliated with any of the state's political parties. The closed primary system, the argument goes, makes it so others decide which candidates will be on the ballot in the general election for these voters to choose form. To this contention, I respond with the following: Do you want to vote in the primary election? Then change your registration with a simple click on a website or by visiting your local library, and you can do so. It's really that simple.

And then, after the primary election, you can easily change your registration to continue touting your independent, unaffiliated stance--untainted by partisan politics.

Purists may have issues with my history of casting primary ballots for odious candidates on the "other side," but I'm not going to argue for being politically informed and knowledgeable enough to try and get easily defeatable candidates on the ballot--or voting in support of candidates from my party that I support. The idea of a closed primary makes sense in theory--Democratic voters should decide who should best represent the Democratic party in the general election, and the same should apply on the Republican side. But if the idea that Oregon's primary system is "broken" does have any merit, then advocating for a truly open primary--in which all voters could choose from all candidates--provides for an easy fix. (And would make it unnecessary for me to change my registration to cast a ballot in contested primaries.)

Currently, Democratic voters have a huge advantage over Republicans when it comes to the amount of voters split between the two parties by a 56-44 percent margin. If Measure 90 were to pass, one (arguably intended) result would be the prevalence of races in which the "top two" candidates come from the same party. In the case of House Districts or other areas that lean heavily on one side versus the other, this would result in the election lasting beyond the spring primary. No longer would whoever wins in May effectively win the election over token opposition by the minority party in the general election. As a supporter of Democratic candidates, one might think I'd support of race between two similarly-minded candidates which would lead to a healthy discussion of issues that matter the most to me. And I would, except for one reason: repeatedly it has shown that over 90 percent of the time the better-funded candidate wins the election. As such, it wouldn't be the "marketplace of ideas" that decides an election between two candidates from the same party, but such an election would simply be decided by the marketplace. After a Measure 90 primary result leads to two candidates from the same party duking it out, they would spend the prevailing months trying to raise money instead of raising support from voters.

Little wonder that outside moneyed interests are pumping millions in support of the Measure 90 campaign, as it would result in a situation where close races could potentially be bought via the infusion of cash.

I understand the logic of attempting to extend the elections past the primary--nothing should be considered locked up or "safe" six months before the general election. But we could examine other options to extend elections, including gerrymandering reform, if necessary (which doesn't seem to apply Oregon as much as other states.) Or we could implement a truly open primary system in which all voters are able to cast a ballot in support of all primary candidates. Or, heck, the state Republican and Democratic parties could recruit strong candidates to challenge in these heavily-leaning districts, candidates willing to buck the party line and take the necessary progressive or conservative stances when necessary to win the votes of their electorate.

But the argument that the current primary system effectively silences the voices of thousands of voters and therefore requires the passage of Measure 90 does not pass the smell test, especially when it is so easy to change party affiliation in the state of Oregon. Voters' desire for independence or nonpartisan affiliation is not sacrosanct enough to enact a primary system that may result in a general election more susceptible to the influence of outside moneyed interests.

And for these reasons, there really is no other option but to Vote No on Measure 90.

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