The Strategic Decision:
In early 2014, as a group of election reformers were strategizing on their best chances to change our voting system they made a critical decision.
Mark Frohnmayer, one of the chief architects of the four different draft initiatives, favored initiative 54 which included an open primary with approval voting and a top two final election.
newsApproval voting is a scientifically tested model of voting that according to voting experts will produce a more satisfying result for the most voters and is not as subject to manipulation as other types of voting. (For more on voting theory go to The Center for Election Science).
Jim Kelly, an active and generous supporter of election reform, favored initiative 55. I-55 included the open primary with a top two general election, but not approval voting. It continued our current system known as first past the post voting. All electors would vote for a single candidate in an open primary and only the top two would move onto the final general election.
Kelly and his supporters believed that including approval voting and an open primary would be too big of a leap for voters. Kelly’s argument won the day and all the money coalesced behind Initiative 55 which won a place on the Oregon General election ballot as Measure 90. (Note: Frohmnayer believed that M90 included an implicit charge to the Legislature to implement a form of approval voting or IRV as well. Others contest that mandate)
When A Door Shuts a Window Opens:
Measure 90 was crushed. It wasn’t enough of a change to inspire many independents, it ignored the legitimate concerns of minor parties who felt marginalized, and it went too far for major parties and their base who believed an open primary threatened their influence.
But while M90 failed it did stir up a lot of debate and ideas by opponents, many of whom did agree that there were ways to improve our democracy through election and voting reform. While it may have been a cynical position, the meme from many major party activists during the election was that they weren’t against election reform and getting more people involved in voting per se, but that M90 was not the answer. The most common theme was that an open primary wasn’t real reform. Real reform would be some form of instant runoff voting (IRV), or ranked choice voting, or some other similar voting method. One that would empower more voters while respecting the rights of major and minor parties.
These major party activists who were fighting against M90 were making some of Frohnmayer’s argument. It isn’t necessarily the top two feature that is the critical reform, it’s the voting mechanism that is critical to making reform work and empowering voters.
So, in continuing that conversation with open minded Democrats and Republicans I’d like you to consider this. (more…)