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October 13, 2014


I hope everyone reads Governor Barbara Roberts' argument against Measure 90 in the Voters' Pamphlet. It's pretty convincing that even though Measure 90 might sound good in theory, it has led to some bad outcomes in practice, in both Washington and California. In the 4th Congressional District in Washington this fall, voters will have the choice between two conservative Republicans with identical platforms. And in District 31 in California, a majority Democrat district, two Republicans will face off because four Democrats split the vote in the primary.

Voters should always have a choice in the general election. With Measure 90 we may not get one.

It should also give pause that a Texas billionaire is the biggest contributor to Yes on 90: .

I'm voting no.

The "open primary" is the most deceptive, underhanded measure ever run by a bunch of out of state billionaires. It "opens" the primary in a way calculated to maximize the effect of money, by only allowing multiple candidates during the primary when few vote, so the duopoly parties will have all the advantages, at a lower cost.

But instead of doing away with the primaries, they then set up a zero sum top two fight to the death which means that the candidates will then be in the most expensive form of election of all, the zero sum winner take all fight, which means every voter I can discourage of yours is just as good as a vote for me, since the voters have no alternative.

If you oppose state funded primaries, the let's use the solution already in Oregon's Constitution, called preference voting then, known as instant runoff voting now. It lets all the candidates run in the general, and let's all the voters vote their true preference without having to worry about spoilers.

If you look at voting numbers for nonpartisan races like city council, you will find that nonaffiliated voters vote at much lower percentages than party-affiliated voters. This would seem to indicate that many of those unaffiliated voters are just not all that interested in voting unless an election is very much in the news, like a Presidential election. So with Measure 90, you will end up with the same small slice of voters deciding who you can vote for in the fall. Except that now your voters choices will be narrower.

Brian -
I hope you switch your lean and decide to vote No. Compelling piece you've written here - I have two more pieces to add to the discussion by looking at what's happening around the country.

First, look at Kansas and South Dakota - two very vibrant and important races for the US Senate that could never happen under a Top Two system. Those races seem to be changing the political landscape in those states before our eyes. Here's an article about the SD race from the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/14/us/politics/senate-contest-in-south-dakota-is-free-for-all.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=HpSum&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

Top Two would mean Oregon could never have races like this. We couldn't have populist outsiders challenging the establishment. We couldn't have free-for-alls.

This leads me to my second point - Top Two is an attempt to maintain the status quo in support of business and special interests. They like Top Two because there will be fewer outsiders and surprises. It's rare that the Associated Oregon Industries start backing election reform - it's pretty safe to assume that they don't do it because they're trying to help democracy.

There are lots of reasons why Measure 90 is bad for Oregon - the best reason might be that it makes change even harder than it is now.

Ben, good points. I too read the piece in the NY Times about South Dakota this morning. It may help sway me to vote against Measure 90.

I also am bothered by reading the Voter's Pamphlet last night and seeing a number of references, by attorneys and others, that the way Measure 90 is written, the current 50 percent plus 1 primary winner system could still continue in non-partisan races, like city council elections.

Meaning, if a candidate got a majority of the votes in the primary, there would only be this one candidate on the ballot in the general election. This would defeat the intent of the "Top Two" system.

On the whole, I'm feeling less good about Measure 90 than I did when I wrote the post last night. Like I said in the post, I'm torn. It bothers me that non-affiliated voters get screwed by the current system.

It also bothers me that the current system encourages extremism, especially on the Republican side -- which has gone farther to the right in recent years that Democrats have gone to the left. Tea Party candidates easily win the GOP primary, then in the general election Republican moderates have to vote for the Tea Party'er, or vote -- gasp! -- for a Democrat.

A Top Two system seemingly would lead to more moderate Republicans being elected. But this may not be happening in actuality, in Washington and California. The depressing thing is that we have a screwed up election system now, and no matter whether Measure 90 passes or fails, we still will have a screwed-up system after November.

Brian - Agree with you on your points about our current system - but I am truly optimistic about Kansas and South Dakota - there seems to be a revolt of the reasonable happening there - and it's interesting to watch the "third party" candidates drive that discussion.

When I talk to the Third Parties that are opposed to Measure 90, they remind me that without the Green Party and the Progressive Party (and even the Libertarian Party) we would never have had the candidates with the courage to talk about the tough issues - it was independents and minor party folks that first talked about gay marriage, for example. What will happen to those voices with only two mainstream candidates on the November ballot?

We need reform - just need reform that also promotes diversity of thought.

Brian- When I first heard about Measure 90, it appeared that it would be a definite improvement over what we now have where the two major parties control there process and spend seemingly unlimited amounts of money ripping each others' candidates to shreds. However, after doing a little research, and reading about the experiences of other states e.g. Washington and California with the Top Two system, I've come to the conclusion that there are other methods which would be more equitable. In particular, the Ranked Choice methods including the Instant Runoff for single seat openings seem to make a lot more sense. (Ron Eachus has a column in Tuesday's Statesman touting the Instant Runoff version). The major drawback would seem to be the complexity of the method which would require some careful monitoring but it allows all voters to have an equal say.

We certainly need some sort of reform to our system but I'm not convinced Measure 90 is the answer.

Good arguments against M90 here



October 14, 2014 at 10:43 am
COLUMN: Crystal primary highlights the need for a smarter voting system

Ranked choice allows a municipality to skip the low-turnout August primary, instead leaving the vetting and culling of candidates to the November electorate: a bigger, more diverse – demographically and ideologically – cross-section of the population.

As it stands, all three races are now narrowed to just two candidates and those candidates will be competing head-to-head until November, which is a recipe for negative campaigning and more fuel on the fire of voter cynicism and disengagement. These factors won’t help the continued dwindling of political participation.

Ranked Choice Voting offers a smarter, more efficient, and more representative way to choose our leaders. I know from experience: I had the privilege of serving as interim elections director in Minneapolis in 2009 when that city first implemented ranked choice. The rollout was a success, with an overwhelming majority of voters finding it both simple and satisfying to use.

That success was amplified last November, when Minneapolis voters again used (and loved) it – this time in a competitive, multicandidate mayoral race as well as several multicandidate city council races. Once again, the process worked: voters had a wider and more diverse range of candidates to choose from and the winners reflected a broader consensus.

What was missing was a separate low-turnout August primary for starters. And maybe more importantly, voters were spared the nasty negative campaigning that’s unfortunately become standard in traditional, two-person contests. Since candidates were also competing for second-choice votes, they largely campaigned on issues and ideas, forgoing ad hominem attacks that degrade political discourse.

Ranked choice allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference: first choice, second choice, third choice. In a single-seat election, if a candidate receives a majority of first-choice voters, he or she wins. If not, the least popular candidate is eliminated and his or her ballots are divided among the remaining candidates according to those voters’ second choices. If there’s still no majority winner, this process repeats until one candidate gains a majority of continuing ballots (or until all seats are filled in a multi-seat election).

By folding two elections into one, ranked choice accomplishes what traditional two-round elections (such as an August primary and a November general) do – but in a single cost-effective election with broader voter participation.

Ranked choice proved it’s “doability” in 2009, and since then – with the arrival of ranked choice-capable voting and tabulation technolog, it’s only gotten simpler. Voters in Minneapolis and St. Paul have left behind the exclusionary and artificially limited summer primary, instead opting for a longer, more complete and issue-rich political dialogue that produces consensus outcomes.

After the successful 2009 election, I called that process one of the most significant civic exercises in Minnesota history. I believe that more strongly than ever – and I remain hopeful that more Minnesota cities will embrace ranked choice as a way to significantly improve our political process.

Patrick O’Connor is a retired Hennepin County Auditor/Treasurer and served as Acting Elections Director for Minneapolis in 2009. He lives in Golden Valley.

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