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A ‘top one’ primary

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In Oregon and nationally the independent movement continues to gain momentum which, here in Oregon with its closed primary, presents a real challenge to democracy.

In 2014, some voters rights activists got the Top Two primary Measure 90 on the ballot, which if passed would have changed Oregon’s closed primary to an open top two primary. It failed after the Democrats and Republicans joined forces to argue it was an infringement on their right to have their members select their own nominees.

But Oregon could have a primary system that protected a political parties right to select it’s own representative, allowed minor parties to preserve their place on the November general election ballot and still gave independent voters an equal vote and meaningful participation in the state financed May primary elections.

The Top One Primary wouldn’t replace Oregon’s closed Democratic and Republican Primaries. It would supplement it. Democratic and Republican party members would be allowed to vote for their party’s nominee in a closed primary with the winner moving onto the November ballot as their party nominee. Democrats and Republicans should be satisfied.

However, along with the closed major party primary, the state would also conduct an open Top One election.

Who would vote: The top one would be open to all non affiliated voters, and to any minor or major party voters whose political party opted into the top one election. So all voters in Oregon would be able to participate in the Democratic or Republican closed primary, in the top one primary, or in their minor party’s nomination process. All Oregonians pay for the primary election. All get to vote. An equal right to participate for all voters, without having to join a party they don’t want to belong to. And party unity is preserved for those major and minor parties who decide to hold their own nomination processes.

Who Could be candidates: Any registered voter would be able to run in the top one primary. Regardless of party affiliation or lack of affiliation. While there is a valid argument that a party should be able to decide who gets to vote for their nominee, there is no valid reason for a party to be able to say which of their party members can stand for election before the voters through an alternative nominating process. And, an optional provision would be to allow a candidate for their own party’s nomination to be a candidate in the Top One open primary as well. This would provide for cross nominations that are now allowed in Oregon. So, the winner of the Republican Primary may also be the winner of the top one open primary if they chose to opt into their party election and the Top One primary.

The benefits:

All voters feel like they have an equal voice and equal vote.
All taxpayers who finance the primary election would be able to fully participate
It may be less expensive and more predictable to run elections with a Top One than under current law which allows each major party to open or close their primary.
Political parties could protect their right to nominate their own candidates
A Democratic or Republican who felt they stood little chance of winning their primary (a pro choice Republican, an PERS reform Democrat), could opt to run in the top one primary without having to re-register.
If we also allowed a candidate to be included on both their party closed primary ballot and the top one open primary, then they couldn’t just run towards their base. They would have to appeal to the moderate independents if they wanted both their party and the top one nomination.

Imagine a Ballot in November that included the Democratic nominee, representing 38% of Oregon voters preference, a Republican nominee representing 29% of Oregonian voters preference, and the Top One candidate representing 29% of Oregonians preference. Imagine if major party candidates were allowed to be on the open top one primary ballot as well as their party closed primary ballot. In a swing district where the predominant party nominee generally wins by 8% the primary campaigning of both the dominant and less dominant party candidates may change because both would have to campaign and communicate with the independent voters in their district, not just their partisan bases.

Preserve Party prerogatives and rights. All voters have meaningful participation. Encourages consensus campaigns, not just campaigns to the partisan base. Provides a path for moderates from both major parties a chance at securing a major nomination, major media coverage. Most importantly, it provides real options in November for not only independent voters, but for Democratic and Republican registered voters who prefer consensus to confrontation.

Whats not to like?

(For purposes of this article, my reference to major party includes only the Democratic and Republican Parties and not the Independent Party of Oregon which just recently reached major party status)

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