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Posts published in “Day: May 20, 2024”

Fill out your ballot

When my Oregon primary election ballot arrived in the mail and I unfolded it, my first thought was: This won’t take long.

My second thought was whether to bother. But that stray idea passed quickly.

My ballot, slight as it is, does matter, and even when it’s not packed with critical inflection points, the decisions on it can have real impact.

I’m in the largest plurality of Oregon voters, those registered as not affiliated with any party. Since a lot of the interest in primary elections concerns choosing party nominees, especially for major parties, I’m a non-participant in a lot of the action this season.

That’s worth noting because 1.1 million Oregonians are in my boat, considerably more than the next-largest group, the Democrats, fewer than a million. Many registrants of the smaller parties have little role this season, either. State law bars all of those people from joining in critical partisan primary contests: You have to be registered with a party to obtain a ballot with those choices.

For unaffiliated voters, a ballot looks like this: Some local government races and some judicial seats, mostly uncontested, and occasionally a ballot issue. In Oregon, the highest-profile of those may be the bond ask for the Portland zoo.

In the case of the uncontested offices featuring only a single name – the norm for most judicial and many local government offices outside the metro areas – a voter can withhold support from a candidate but realistically has little chance of affecting the outcome. For many unaffiliated voters, ballot issues are the main reason to cast a vote at all.

Oregon is one of only nine states to limit primary participation, and citizens here have brought forth a number of proposals to open its primary elections to those not registered with a party.

Still, the group All Oregon Votes, which has backed open primaries in Oregon and filed an initiative proposal for the 2024 general election, said in February, it has “paused work on 2024 Initiative Petition 26 to focus on more promising strategies to enfranchise voters in Oregon.” Those other strategies weren’t specified. The group, which has been trying since 2020 to put a measure on the ballot, has run up against conflicts with state officials over ballot titles, which the group said left the intent of the measure unclear for voters.

Meanwhile, many major party members are seeing slim ballots, too. The presidential nominating process, which often drives primary turnout in presidential years, is effectively done – long before Oregon voters got a chance to weigh in. Only one Republican, Donald Trump, is even on the ballot, and the Democratic contest is just about over as well.

Two congressional districts do have heated primary contests, those being in the 3rd and the 5th districts, both on the Democratic side. The race in the 5th District does have serious national implications, because in the fall it may be among the handful determining whether the Republicans or Democrat will control the U.S. House next term.

And legislative primary contests are sprinkled all over the state. But for many voters, there’s still little there.

So why bother, especially for unaffiliated voters??

In my case, the ballot has several unopposed judicial races and several unopposed local offices – little to debate about there. But the main reason I wasted no time filling out and turning in the ballot was the one race on it which is contested.

This is a battle, a real political knock-down, for one of the three Yamhill County Commission seats. The incumbent seeking re-election is locally controversial enough to have been the subject, a few years back, of a recall attempt. She prevailed then, but not by much, 52.5% to 47.5%, and she hasn’t won office by much more than that.

Many commission races in Yamhill County in recent years have been similarly close. And this season’s contest, in which she has two challengers, may be another. One of those contenders hasn’t been seriously active, but the other has been running a highly energetic campaign, and local conventional wisdom is split on the probable outcome. As in many Oregon counties, the seats are officially non-partisan, but they party they belong to is an open secret.

In theory, it’s a race that could go down to a single vote. I wouldn’t want it to go what I consider to be the wrong way because I failed to vote.

Local Oregon ballots have lots of individual races like that, and they all matter.  So, look closely at your ballot. It may offer more chances to make a difference than you initially think.

This column originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

The ultimate voter guide

Political contests in Idaho seem to be getting uglier with each passing year. The closing of the Republican primary in 2011 deserves a great deal of the blame. Extremist candidates found that they could win by brandishing fake culture war issues against traditional Republicans who were interested in solving problems. Stoking fear and outrage produces more votes than pledging to fix roads and schools in a low-turnout closed primary.

The flood of money into Idaho from out-of-state dark money interests that favor extreme candidates has added to the problem. One such group, Maryland-based Idaho Federation for Children PAC, has spent $228,000 in the GOP primary, most of it in negative campaigning against three highly-regarded House Republicans–Richard Cheatum, Kenny Wroten and Melissa Durrant– who opposed using taxpayer money for private and religious schooling.

Another extremist group, Texas-based Young Americans for Liberty (YAFL), has been one of the biggest spenders in Idaho elections over the past few years. An affiliated PAC, Make Liberty Win, has made false claims against traditional Republicans, including Senators Chuck Winder and Treg Burnt and Rep James Petzke. Winder expects the PAC to spend $500,000 this election cycle, supporting extremist candidates and trashing their opponents. Columnist Randy Stapilus wisely recommends that this type of garbage be disposed of with the other trash.

One tactic of YAFL is to finance waves of door knockers who pass out scurrilous handouts, trashing responsible legislators. They may appear to be dedicated volunteers, but are often college students earning up to $4,160 per month, plus gas and housing. It might be revealing for recipients of the handouts to ask the door knockers where they are from, whether they are being paid and who hired them.

In this day and age, when voters are often unable to get reliable information about candidates on the ballot, where can they turn? The closure of so many weekly newspapers and the decline of daily papers has dried up traditional sources of news for many. The explosion of social media has flooded voters with information, but a great deal of it is unreliable. What is a voter to do in getting the information necessary to make an informed choice?

All is not lost. Despite the fact that most daily papers in Idaho have fallen on tougher times, their reportage on political candidates is still generally reliable. What information is available on our TV stations is good. New publications like the Idaho Capital Sun and Idaho Education News (IEN) are doing a fine job of political reporting. I have been impressed with IEN’s voter guide. The Idaho League of Women Voters also has a trustworthy voter guide.

The latest addition to reliable information on political candidates is Take Back Idaho’s comprehensive voter guide. Take Back Idaho (TBI) is a non-partisan group of Idahoans dedicated to removing extremism from Idaho politics. TBI does not endorse candidates in its voter guide. The guide lets primary election candidates speak for themselves. It contains news reports, links to candidate websites and information furnished by and for candidates. The purpose of the guide is to provide information to allow voters to judge candidates based upon what they say and do, regardless of what dark money interests may say about them. To get a flavor of the guide, I would recommend checking out the Jim Woodward vs Scott Herndon contest, which appears first in the publication. And make sure to get out and vote in the May 21 primary.