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Two Is the Loneliest Number

Measure 90 wants to limit candidates



One of the quietest debates on the ballot this November concerns the so-called "top two" primary system. Measure 90 proposes to create a system similar to Washington, California and Louisiana that detaches the primaries from political parties and allows independent voters to weigh in, and then sends the top two candidates to the general election. Proponents say that will simultaneously open up and focus campaigns on the two best candidates, regardless of political party, while opponents are concerned it will limit opportunities for candidates and voters. Sara Logue, with the Join the No on 90 Coalition and Maurice A. Henderson II, with Yes on 90, answer a few questions about Measure 90.

NO ON 90

Source Weekly: The polls seem stacked against Measure 90. What is the most compelling argument that you believe could sway voters?

Sara Logue: At the Citizens Initiative Review, a panel of independent citizens, voted 14-5 against Measure 90 after learning about the measure from both sides. Even proponents recognize that Measure 90 does not increase voter participation.

SW: Is there an argument for Measure 90 that you agree has some validity? 

SL: We agree that our current elections system is not perfect and that there are things we must do to make real change and strengthen democracy. We need real reform, like same-day voter registration and automatic voter updates.

SW: Does Oregon have a substantially larger population of independent voters?

SL: Oregon has a vibrant culture of minor parties and independent voters—that's why defeating Measure 90 is so important. The best way to serve our independent voters is to make sure our elections in November aren't closed and capped at only two candidates.

SW: What is the biggest misconception about the "open primary"?

SL: The biggest misconception about Measure 90 is that it will open up our elections. In fact, the opposite is true. Instead of broadening our choices and our political debate, the "Top Two" system will quickly devolve into special interest smash-mouth, where the two best funded candidates duke it out about nothing while the real policy debate needed in our elections is left behind.

SW: What is a primary difference from California or Washington?

SL: The core of the systems in California and Washington are very similar to what is proposed in Oregon. One difference is how write-in voters are treated; Measure 90 wouldn't allow write-in votes for candidates.

SW: There is an argument that while Measure 90 increases access to primary elections, it limits options to only two candidates in the General Election. Is it correct that it is a paradox in terms of overall access?

SL: Yes, it is, and it's a paradox that will likely lead to less voter participation overall. Measure 90 shifts the power of our election system to a small group of primary voters who tend to be older, whiter, and more partisan than general election voters.

A recent California report examined voter participation and found that voters participate less in "Top Two" primary states. When voters are asked to choose between two candidates from the same party in the November election (which can happen under "Top Two" systems) 8 percent fewer voters participate.

When voters have no options, they tend to skip the vote.

SW: Has anything changed in the past four years to think that this initiative has a chance now when it failed four years ago?  

SL: The biggest thing that has changed is the money behind the Yes on 90 side. In 2008, the "campaigns" barely did any campaigning at all. This time, big business has already raised and spent over $1 million to push Measure 90, and they say that they have millions more.

Oregon voters spoke loud and clear when they voted "no" (66-34 percent) on the nearly identical 2008 "Top Two" initiative. Since then, we've been able to see the real-life consequences of "Top Two" systems in Washington and California, where voter participation and turnout have decreased and minor parties have all but disappeared.


Source Weekly: The polls seem stacked against Measure 90. What is the most compelling argument that you believe could sway voters?

Maurice A. Henderson II: An analysis by the Oregonian (OR Legislative races:, OR House:, OR Senate: showed that between 80 percent and 92 percent of 2014 Oregon legislative races were effectively decided in either the Democratic (urban Oregon) or Republican (rural Oregon) primary election. Yet, more than 650,000 Oregon voters are not registered with a major party and therefore can’t vote in those elections (even though they pay for them with tax dollars). Another 350,000+ Oregonians are urban Republicans or rural Democrats who also have no say because the winner of the other party’s primary election is always the winner of the general election. This system effectively disenfranchises one million Oregon voters. Under Measure 90, every Oregon voter gets to select who moves on to the general election, and every voter gets a choice between two bona fide candidates in the general election.

It is also important to point out that between May and September 2014, over 80% of newly registered voters (over 70 percent in September alone) chose not to register with either of the major parties. All of these voters are effectively locked out of the primary election, which is arguably the most important set of elections with regards to direct representation at the state level. Secretary of State’s statistics:

Measure 90 allows those voters to have full voting rights and for every candidate, regardless of party of lack of party affiliation, to appeal to every voter.

SW: Does Oregon have a substantially larger population of independent voters?

MH: As noted above, Oregon has over 650,000 independent, minor party and non-affiliated voters. The fact that over 31% of Oregon voters are bypassed during the process by which we choose our candidates for the general election is a travesty.

SW: What is the biggest misconception about the “open primary”?

MH: As supporters of Measure 90, we have heard some real outlandish statements from our opponents, and more than a few outright lies. A recent flier stated that the Measure was written by "corporations and millionaires." In fact, it was written by former Secretary of State Phil Keisling with some help from Mark Frohnmayer, and no influence from corporations or others. More than likely, the authors wish that they were millionaires or had major corporate incomes but that is not the case—an unfortunate reality that entirely undercuts our opposition's fabrication.

Another misconception is that Measure 90 will be unfair to minor parties. Some of them do oppose, likely because they relish the role of agitating on the outside. However, the Working Families Party and the Independent Party have both endorsed Measure 90. Together, they represent 110,000 of the 150,000 minor party members in Oregon! Both of those parties recognize that the current system is broken, and both of them realize that allowing their members to vote in primaries is a right that they deserve, like any other voters. And both parties recognize that they will gain greater influence with Oregon's fusion voting system under Measure 90.

SW: Is there a success story from another state that you can provide?

MH: There are a few examples that we point to of the advantages of Measure 90 compared to the current system. Washington state polled residents about the top two primary and found that residents over 76% preferred the “Pick a Candidate” system over “Pick a Party”. Additionally, in California there has been a nearly 10% increase in the number of ethnic minority candidates that have won both federal and state legislative offices since 2012.

SW: What is a primary difference from California or Washington?

MH: Measure 90 in Oregon preserves the ability to write-in candidates on the general election ballot. It also allows all parties in the state to endorse the candidates that their party favors, which expands on the fusion voting that the state already employs.

Under Measure 90’s open primary system, the party registration (or lack thereof) of every candidate will be printed on the primary and general election ballot. In addition, parties (both major and minor parties) can endorse candidates in the primary and general by conducting their own endorsement process that is approved by the Secretary of State. This information will also be printed on the ballot. This means that voters will have more information about candidates under the new system than they do under the current system. A candidate might be a registered Democrat and also endorsed by the Democratic Party, Working Families Party, and Independent Party of Oregon. Now the voter will receive four pieces of information about the candidate instead of one. This helps voters distinguish between candidates and what they stand for. These voter registration and endorsement provisions are not part of the Washington and California top-two system. Thus, Measure 90 addresses a key gap in the California and Washington system: helping voters distinguish between candidates.

SW: There is an argument that while Measure 90 increases access to primary elections, it limits options to only two candidates in the General Election. Doesn’t that seem like a paradox in terms of overall access?

MH: When our opponents argue that Measure 90 would limit choice in the general election, they conveniently avoid the fact that those general election "choices" are generally all but meaningless.. First, since roughly 90% of districts in Oregon are so heavily dominated by Democrats or Republicans, there is no real race in the general election between the dominant party candidate and the token Republican or Democrat. The outcome is a foregone conclusion. That is technically a "choice," but not a real and meaningful one. Same goes for minor party candidates on the general election ballot. We have not elected a minor party or independent candidate to the legislature in 40 years, nor anyone to a statewide office since the 1930s. Having minor party candidates on the ballot does mean that you can have a "spoiler" candidate change the outcome of the election, possibly electing the candidate not favored by the majority. Remember Gore/Bush/Nader? Measure 90 removes that chance of a bad outcome in our Oregon elections. Finally, for those truly unhappy with the candidates on the general election ballot, or who want to vote their conscience or cast a protest vote, Measure 90 affirms and retains that right by allowing write-ins.

There is always more choice in the May primary—by definition; all candidates run and face every voter—and a lot more voters get to weigh in on those choices. For the general, while there may only be two PRINTED names on the ballot, in FAR MORE of these general elections there will be a MORE MEANINGFUL choice. Yes, it might be between two candidates who happen to be in the same party (two Democrats in urban Portland, two Republicans in rural Oregon for example.) But we all know that being of the same party doesn't mean identical views—and again, at least there's meaningful choice here rather than the illusion of one.

And in those (very rare, we believe) cases where a "strange split" might occur—leading to two Republicans, say, in a district that's more Democratic? Unlike California, M90 would continue to allow write-in candidates (as it does now), and this is a potential "safety valve" in these rare cases.

SW: Why do you believe that this initiative has a chance now when it failed four years ago? What has changed to favor its passage?

MH: Oregon voters are overwhelmingly trending to registering as independents and non-affiliated voters. Reaching those voters should be a priority for any campaign in the state and is of absolute importance to us.

This time there is a broad coalition, a robust campaign infrastructure, and Oregonians from across the state and folks from around the country that are tired of the partisan gridlock that is not putting the needs of people first. Measure 90 is an incredibly important step towards opening up an effective space for ideas and debate that will hopefully shape greatly improved public policy decisions that better people’s quality of life going forward.

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