Posted by Russell Daniels on January 20, 2021 at 1:33 PM
Opinion: Oregon’s closed primary system undermines our voting rights ideals
Frazier is a second-year law student at the UC Berkeley School of Law temporarily living in San Francisco and the editor of The Oregon Way, an online publication.
Oregon’s approach to elections is a lot like a shiny apple with a rotten core. From the exterior, it is a model for the rest of the country to follow. From mail-in voting to automatic voter registration, Oregon has done a lot to make democracy easy. But at the core, partisanship undermines efforts to make the state’s democracy more participatory and inclusive. Who cares how easy it is to vote if you don’t get to participate in every stage of the election, especially in what is arguably the most important stage?
In every primary election, the state of Oregon permits the two major parties to deprive non-affiliated and third-party voters of a fundamental right—the right to self-determination – unless they change their registration to join one of the major parties. The state’s closed-primary system, funded by taxpayers of all political stripes, shuts approximately one million Oregon voters out of the most crucial stage of the election in which the major parties choose their nominees. As the most recent election demonstrated, whoever wins the Democratic primary in this largely Democratic state is the heavy favorite to win the general election in Oregon-wide races such as attorney general and secretary of state.
Rather than putting parties at the center of our elections, we should place people first. Rather than force voters to pick a party, we should free voters to choose their preferred candidate regardless of party affiliation. It’s time for Oregonians to re-evaluate our primary system and consider how to concentrate power in voters’ hands – not parties’; in doing so, the core of our democracy can turn on the ability of officials to get things done, instead of their ability to adhere to partisan priorities.