Oregon’s primary elections should be open to all - Open Primaries
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Oregon’s primary elections should be open to all

Posted by Russell Daniels on April 16, 2019 at 1:37 PM

Opinion: Oregon’s primary elections should be open to all

written by David Ellis for The Oregonian

Non-affiliated voters, the fastest growing group of registered voters in Oregon, are afforded second-class status. We cannot vote in the major-party primaries, often times the only competitive race.

Secretary of State Dennis Richardson correctly recognizes this problem. I applaud him for speaking out. But his separate-but-equal solution, a non-affiliated voter-only primary, misses the mark.

Non-affiliated voters are not defined by ideology. We cross the spectrum and do not fit in the standard conservative or liberal boxes. But we want to be fully equal at the ballot box and not forced to join a political party as a precondition for voting.

The idea of creating a primary exclusively for non-affiliated voters and candidates is an expression of how neither major party understands us. We aren’t asking for a separate primary election. We want to vote for the best candidates, regardless of party.

We don’t want our own silo. We think silos are what’s wrong with politics!

Non-affiliated voters want the same voting rights as party members in every public election. And make no mistake, Oregon’s system of closed primaries are taxpayer-funded public elections. The 2016 primaries cost $1.71 per voter -- the cost of the 2018 primaries has not yet been posted. That may seem like pocket change, but at the time of those primaries, there were approximately 500,000 non-affiliated voters who collectively paid $855,000 for an election in which they could not participate. So much for no taxation without representation.

Non-affiliated voters want the ability to participate because primaries matter. By November, much of the real political decision-making has been completed. Only 17 percent of general election contests in Oregon feature a competitive race. The primaries aren’t just important; in many districts, they are the only election.

While the numbers of non-affiliated voters have been climbing, participation in party primaries has been declining. In the 2018 primaries, only 34 percent of registered voters participated. Since 1960, this is the lowest recorded participation in the Oregon primaries. Despite -- or maybe because of -- these declining numbers, the Democratic and Republican parties in Oregon seem to be determined to keep non-affiliated voters from playing a serious role in the electoral process.

It’s time to stop the disenfranchisement. We want openness, inclusion and a level playing field -- not more partisan segmentation. Senate Bill 225, which would create a primary for non-affiliated voters only is the wrong way to go. We should have public primaries, open to all candidates and all voters, not separate silos for Democrats, Republicans and those independent of both.

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