Open Primary, Closed Doors


Lately there has been much talk in political circles about the proposed ballot measure which would create an Open Primary in Oregon.

In this era of gerrymandered legislative districts, low voter turn-out, and growing numbers of unaffiliated voters, one can see why there would be a desire to include all voters in one open primary. However, the initiative being advocated by former Secretaries of State Kiesling and Paulus contains a poison pill: Only the top two vote-getters from the primary would advance to the General Election.

Legal challenges to similar electoral reforms in other states saw them tossed out as unconstitutional violations of freedom of association. Oregon’s initiative would also be bogged down in similar challenges. If upheld it would result in the quintessential death knell for Oregon’s minor political parties because their candidates would almost never make it past the open primary into the general election.

Perhaps more troubling is the likelihood that in Portland no Republican would make the general election ballot in Legislative races under the top two vote-getter plan, just as no Democrat would likely make the ballot in Eastern Oregon.

An open primary is an interesting concept because nobody should foot the bill for a “private club’s” elections. But the current ballot initiative is little more than a Gerrymander’s Bill of Rights.

Matthew E. Rowe is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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