[Update: I've recanted, flip-flopped again, changed my mind. I'm now a No on Measure 90.
I'm a flip-flopper when it comes to Measure 90, the initiative Oregonians are about to vote on that would create an open primary system. Meaning, everybody would be able to vote in the primary.
It would be open to all registered voters, including the 650,000 unaffiliated citizens who now are shut out of primaries. This included me for several years prior to 2008, when I decided to no longer be a registered Democrat.
Because I wanted to vote for Barack Obama in the Democratic Party presidential primary, I had to become a registered Democrat again.
With Measure 90, it wouldn't be necessary to do this for state offices (the presidential primary would continue to be guided by federal law). In primaries all Oregonians could pick and choose among candidates of both the major and minor parties, along with unaffiliated candidates.
Both the Democratic and Republican parties in Oregon are opposed to Measure 90, which is one reason I lean toward supporting it. The current primary system gives too much power to the two major parties.
Since many parts of Oregon have clear Democratic or Republican party majorities, whoever wins the party nomination in the primary is virtually guaranteed to win in the general election.
So if there are 60% Republicans in a district, and a third of them vote in the primary, this means that 11% of registered voters could end up deciding the election (60% / 3 = 20%; a majority of 20% is 11%).
With an Open Primary, the top two candidates go on to the general election.
They could be from the same political party, but then likely one candidate would be more moderate than the other. So in the above example, in the general election a moderate "top two" Republican could be elected in a heavily "R" district, if most of the Democrats voted for that candidate, along with centrist Republicans.
From what I've heard this is more theory than fact in the states that have gone to open primaries (such as California and Washington), but it seems to me that giving moderates a chance in extremely liberal or conservative districts would be a good thing.
I've gone back and forth on Measure 90 just about every time I read a good argument pro or con. Today I came across the best "pro" piece I've seen so far, "Publicly Funded Elections Should Treat All Oregonians Equally" at GoLocalPDX.
Former Secretary of State Phil Keisling and voter rights advocate Caitlin Baggott write:
The measure on this fall’s ballot generating the most agitation among good people everywhere may – surprisingly – not be about legalizing marijuana or telling people what is in their food.
It’s about voting.
This year, Oregonians will vote up or down to grant more than 650,000 taxpaying voters the right to have a say in their state and federal representation. They are currently barred from participating in the election that matters most: the spring primary. A recent Oregonian study showed that nearly 90 percent of those races are effectively decided in the primary – leaving a small number of contested races for the fall ballot in a spare handful of districts around the state.
Why have these 650,000 voters been locked out? Because they choose not to sign up with the big political parties.
Who hates this proposed change? The big political parties.
And also electioneers who hew to the success of one party or the other. Right to Life and Planned Parenthood are together on this one: They say vote no.
Hence the agitation.
Measure 90 fulfills one of the most basic ideals of our democracy: All voters should be treated equally regardless of their creed or ideology.
If that seems straightforward, that’s because it is.
Here’s what the Top Two primary would do, from the perspective of voters: Every Oregon voter would get the same ballot. The universal ballot would include every candidate for all state and federal offices.
The information voters turn to most frequently to make their choice – party affiliation – would be provided in far more detail than we receive now. Each candidate would be listed with his or her personal party registration, and also any endorsements he or she chooses to accept.
A whimsical example, from inner SE Portland, where both of us happen to live:
-- Rosy Riveter (Democratic Party). Endorsements – Democratic Party, Working Families Party, Progressive Party
-- Johnny Appleseed (Pacific Green Party). Endorsements – Pacific Green Party
-- Cool H. Luke (No Party). Endorsement – Libertarian Party, Independent Party
-- Donna Quixote (Republican Party) – Republican Party,
The two top vote-getters in that election would go to the fall ballot. For the sake of argument, let’s guess that Rosy and Johnny are the favored candidates in this lefty district.
As in 11 districts in Washington state this year, a minor party candidate would appear as one of two finalists -- and thus, have a very real chance to win the election. (No minor party candidate has won any Oregon partisan election in nearly a half century.) Washington has used a version of the Top Two primary for a few election cycles now. In a recent survey, 76 percent of Washington voters prefer the “pick-a-candidate” system over the “pick a party” system.
Sounds good to me. But my mind isn't completely made up on a "Yes" for Measure 90.
I took this photo from my close-in seat. Marvin Sannes of the Independent Party is standing at the podium. Seated left to right are Republican Tootie Smith, Democrat Kurt Schrader, the moderator, and Constitution Party candidate Raymond Baldwin.
After the debate I went up to Baldwin and told him, "You and Sannes have convinced me to vote no on the Top Two primary measure, because you guys were so entertaining and different. It would have been boring to have just Schrader and Smith debating today."
It does bother me that minor parties usually won't have a voice in the general election if Measure 90 passes. Despite the example given above by Keisling and Baggott, mostly the top two candidates will be Democrat or Republican.
However, under our current system minor party candidates tend to be largely ignored by the media and sponsors of debates. So I'm not sure if the benefit of giving them a voice in the general election is more important than giving the 650,000 unaffiliated Oregon voters a voice in the primary election.
That said, Sannes and Baldwin were definitely worth listening to. They made sense most of the time, but each dove into areas that made me go "Huh?" inside my head.
Sannes brought this sign along with his campaign poster. He talked quite a bit about a government conspiracy to bring down the Twin Towers on 9/11 for some undisclosed reason. At least, I think it was our government behind it -- Sannes didn't make much sense on this topic.
Neither did Baldwin when he referred to mandatory "chips" being implanted in people because of the Affordable Care Act, another thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory.
But in the Q & A period, when I got to ask a question about how each of the candidates felt about Measure 91, which would legalize recreational marijuana in Oregon, Sannes and Baldwin each gave much more coherent responses than Smith and Schrader.
The minor party candidates both favored Measure 91, giving good reasons to support a retreat from the government's wasteful and ineffective War on Drugs. Smith, the Republican, said she would vote no, then launched into an irrelevant anecdote about medical marijuana dispensary people in Clackamas County doing something with cooked cannabis in their driveway that annoyed neighbors.
(I whispered to my seat mate, "Smith should have given out the address so people could go up there and inhale the smoke if they want to.")
Schrader was given an out on answering this question by the debate moderator, who told him "Kurt, we just have a minute left. You can either answer the marijuana question or talk about something else." Not surprisingly, Schrader took the professional politican approach and ducked the question.
Rather, he expressed his support for Measure 90.
So I'm torn. I'd like to see minor candidates like Sannes and Baldwin on debate podiums in the general election, but as I said, I don't think this is reason enough to continue shutting out unaffiliated Oregonians in the primaries.
For now, I'm a "Yes" vote on Measure 90. I might change my mind, though.