Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



Ballot Measure 90 — the open primary initiative — won’t cure all afflictions that plague the election process in

Oregon and elsewhere, but it would give more people the chance to participate in choosing their leaders.

It also would prove popular with the electorate if it is implemented, and that in itself is good enough reason for voters to approve this measure in the Nov. 4 election.

Measure 90 comes to the ballot via a citizens’ initiative drive, and it is a rarity in that its objective is simply to make government work better, rather than to advance some interest group’s narrow or partisan cause. The measure’s many supporters want to unlock Oregon’s closed primary system and allow all voters to choose which candidates will advance to the November election.

Under the top-two primary proposed by Measure 90, all voters in Oregon would receive the same primary ballot in May elections and be allowed to vote for the candidates of their choice. For each race (other than presidential primaries), the two candidates who receive the most votes will move forward to the general election, regardless of their party affiliation. In essence, Measure 90 adopts the same process that’s already in place for nonpartisan races in Oregon — such as county commissioner races — and extends it to partisan contests as well.

This system, which already is in use in Washington and California, would be far preferable to Oregon’s closed primary, which allows only party members to vote in partisan primary races. At present, for example, only Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary and only Republicans can vote in the GOP primary.

The result of the current system is that the most active and often extreme elements of the two major parties end up choosing their candidates. And because most legislative districts in Oregon are reliably Democratic or Republican, the candidates chosen in a closed primary, by a small number of voters, are generally assured of victory in the fall.

Measure 90 would pry open this process and allow the approximately 700,000 voters in Oregon who are not Democrats or Republicans to take part. Primary elections are funded by all taxpayers and should not be viewed as the private domain of the two major parties.

Under Measure 90, minor party candidates — the Pacific Greens and Libertarians, for example — might get eliminated in the primary. But we

also can envision the possibility that they would have a greater shot in some districts of being one of the top two to advance to the general election.

It’s also possible that two Republicans in the most conservative districts or two Democrats in the most liberal districts would end up facing each other in November. But in those cases, the November election actually would gain meaning, as opposed to the current system where the minority party puts up token opposition.

Backers of Measure 90 argue that it will have a moderating effect on politicians who no longer will be able to pander to their party bases in order to get elected. That may or may not prove true.

Open primaries also may or may not increase voter turnout, based on the evidence in California and Washington, and they may or may not alter the influence of money in political campaigns.

Those possibilities are intriguing, but they aren’t the immediate reason for approving Measure 90. The overwhelming evidence from Washington and elsewhere is that voters, once they try it, will like an open primary better than the current closed partisan system. In a state where half of newly registered voters are choosing not to join either of the

major parties, open primaries are the future.

Along the way, Oregon also is likely to benefit from a primary system that encourages candidates to appeal to a broader spectrum of voters. We recommend a yes vote on Measure 90 — a rare good-government measure in an era of special-interest politics.

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