Did you know that almost a quarter – over 500,000 – of Oregon’s registered voters are non-affiliated, and an additional 165,000 registered voters are members of parties other than Democrat or Republican?
Under Oregon’s current election system, candidates for the November general election are chosen through a closed primary election in May. That means in the May primary election, only voters affiliated with a specific political party can vote for a candidate affiliated with their party. So, a Democrat can only vote for a Democratic candidate, a Green Party member can only vote for a Green Party candidate, and so on.
But, more than half a million registered voters in Oregon are not affiliated with any political party. That means those voters cannot participate in the primary election at all. Additionally, more than 165,000 voters who are registered with a minority party don’t have a say in choosing the majority (Republican or Democratic) parties’ candidates.
Critics of Oregon’s current system argue that the closed primary system makes candidates more partisan. This causes them to adopt more radical positions in order to appeal to the small group of party-affiliated voters who choose them in the primary. To help fix this, Measure 90 introduces a top-two primary system that allows all voters to vote on all candidates, regardless of party affiliation. The top-two candidates in each race would then advance to the general election ballot.
With a top-two primary, proponents suggest that candidates will be more moderate because they would have to appeal to many voters instead of their party’s most active and partisan base.
In particularly partisan districts, the top-two candidates might end up being from the same party, instead of having a token opposition candidate who received a tiny fraction of the votes. Voters would then get to choose between, say, two different Republicans, instead of the current system where the ‘options’ are one very favored Republican and an opposition Democrat with almost no chance of winning.
How do voters feel about a top-two primary? Once the system is in place, many voters favor the top-two primary system. In Washington, where a similar top-two primary system was employed in the last few years, 70% of voters prefer it to their old partisan system.
Opponents to Measure 90 argue that it has not increased voter turnout in California and Washington. However, voter turnout in closed primary elections in Oregon hit another low this year, when only 35.9% of registered voters turned out to choose the candidates for the general election, and has been declining for the last few decades.
Measure 90 is not a fix-all solution to improving voter turnout, but its proponents argue that it may help elect candidates who are less extreme and represent the agendas of a large portion of Oregonians instead of a few partisan voters.