Today I got an email that further convinced me voting "No" on Measure 90, Oregon's open primary initiative, was a good decision.
Jack Holloway is a long-time citizen activist here in Salem. I enjoy sharing ideas with him. He was critical of my initial inclination to be in favor of Measure 90, explaining why in an email message. I responded with:
Jack, thanks for the cogent thoughts. As I said in another blog post, I’ve decided to vote No on Measure 90. It has some good aspects and some bad aspects. The bad seem to outweigh the good. It still bothers me that unaffiliated voters are treated dismally in our electoral system, but that will have to be fixed in some other way.
Jack replied with a terrific second message.
Nicely written. Soundly argued. Persuasive. He made points about unaffiliated voters that led me to see our current election system in a new light. I still think it is screwed up, but not to the same degree, or in the same way, I viewed it before.
Here's Jack's message -- well worth a read.
Thanks for your note. I'm afraid that I have not made myself clear about the "dismal treatment" of unaffiliated voters in primary elections.
Again -- and I cannot stress this enough -- primaries are the process through which political parties (voluntary associations of like-minded voters) decide upon whom they want to represent their views in the general election.
What you seem to be concerned about is that voters who do not agree with the policies or principles of political parties are not allowed to skew those parties' nominee selection process by casting their votes for candidates who may or may not actually represent the wishes of the members of those parties.
It's like this: suppose that you were to organize a "Clean Up Salem Government" group, made up of citizen volunteers who agree with you about the need for a clean-up in the way that our municipal government conducts its affairs.
Suppose further that dozens of our fellow citizens, fed up just as you are, flocked in and joined your group, and pledged themselves to help further your efforts to clean up Salem.
Now suppose that on the meeting day scheduled for a vote among your members to agree on a set of candidates to run on your "Clean Up Salem" slate, that dozens of chamber members and officers, dozens of developers, dozens of politically connected business owners and others of such ilk were to come flocking in to your candidate-selection meeting and outvote you and all your members, and select a group of chamber officers as the nominees of the "Clean Up Salem" slate.
I dare say that you would -- at the very least -- consider that foul play.
You might even have foreseen such an eventuality and included in your group's bylaws a requirement that only members of your group are permitted to vote on anything that the group is considering -- thus treating chamber members just, really, really dismally.
Unaffiliated voters are not being deprived of anything. If they want to participate in the selection of a political party's nominees, all they have to do is to join that party and their right to vote in that selection process will never be questioned.
Again, a primary election is the process through which the members of a political party select those candidates that best represent the views of the party's members.
Just for fun, try to imagine a national party disbanding its credentials committee, and throwing its state and national conventions open to anyone and everyone who happened to wander in off the street. The result would be pandemonium, I assure you, and very well could result in the election of an even worse set of leaders than are now disfiguring the landscape in D. C.
Now -- there really are two questions here to be answered; first, does the party primary system treat unaffiliated voters "dismally?" I hope that I have laid that question to rest.
But there is a second consideration, quite different from the "dismallity" question. That is, who are the unaffiliated voters, and why are they unaffiliated? That question has been answered in study after study, over many decades. Unaffiliated voters are, with a few exceptions and otherwise in their great majority, the least informed, least involved and least interested of the whole body of registered voters.
That is, in large part, why they are unaffiliated. With, as stated, a few exceptions here and there, they don't know anything, and they do not care enough to inform themselves.
That is why, by the way, that they are the group most susceptible to sensationalized, non-issue, ad-hominem political advertising. They also tend to vote late, if at all. That is why you see campaigns switching to nastier and nastier personal attack ads as the end of the election process comes nearer.
It's because the majority of the late voters are the unaffiliated, and they might not even vote at all unless driven to do so by outrageous attacks against one or another candidate -- attacks that they cannot see through because of their well-known ignorance of public affairs and their almost total lack of interest in educating themselves.
In fact, if unaffiliated voters were to be allowed to vote in party primaries they probably would fail to do so, anyway. Even party members vote in much smaller numbers in primaries than in general elections, and the unaffiliated are far more disinterested than those who are party members.
It really would be much better, in my opinion, if party nominations were to go back to being decided in district party caucuses, open to all registered members of the respective parties, who would at least be interested enough to hie themselves over to their local meeting place on caucus night. I think that such a process would bring back clarity as to the purposes of primary and of general elections, and of the differences in their purposes, and the reasons for the differences between the two types of elections.
It would also help assure that (a) every party member would have the opportunity to participate in the nomination process, and also that (b) the ones voting would be the ones most interested and most informed, and that would be a good thing, in my opinion.
Finally, the "open primary" system permits -- almost begs for -- a lot of different types of skullduggery that are at present more difficult, if not impossible to pull off. For example, (and just one of several problems) we have seen in states with some types of open primary systems situations where a political party will gin up a massive phone-bank operation, urging its party members to vote in the primary of the opposition party, and swing the opposing party's nomination to a member of the phone-banking party. It has happened.
To close, unaffiliated voters are not actually being deprived of anything.
They have the same right as any other voter to join a party of their choosing, or even to start a party of their own, and if they do either then they will have the same opportunity as all other party members to help select that party's nominees. If they choose to forgo that right, that's their business. It is they who are treating themselves dismally, not the process.
What they are now asking for is to be allowed to help direct the actions of a volunteer association made up of like-minded citizens, without being involved in any way with that association, or even without any understanding of the principles for which that association exists.
The way to fix things is for that group of mostly uninformed, disinterested and uninvolved voters to take an interest in public policy matters, inform themselves, and then find that party which most nearly promotes their informed beliefs, join it, (or form a new one) and help it to promote those candidates who best represent the group's beliefs and principles.
Hope this clarifies things.
Sure does, Jack.
My wife and I mailed our ballots today. We both voted No on Measure 90, and Yes on the other initiatives. Again, you helped me feel confident that my thumbs down on Measure 90 was the right way to go.