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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Friday, May 23, 2008

"Oregon Open Primary" Makes Headway

It now appears that a proposal for a Louisiana-style election system will be on Oregon's November 2008 ballot, as supporters of the "Oregon Open Primary" initiative today turned in some 92,000 petition signatures. 82,769 signatures must be validated, and the backers say that they will submit still more signatures by the July 3 deadline.

The "open primary" proponents had previously announced a goal of 120,000 signatures, of which they expected some 100,000 to be obtained by paid gatherers. This points up the superiority of professional signature gatherers over volunteers.

"Open primary" in this instance refers to nonpartisan elections, in which there are no party primaries. All voters receive the same ballot, on which the names of all candidates for each office are listed, and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the runoff. Thus, it's possible for the final two candidates to be from the same party. (This is the election system that Mississippians have clamored for, off and on, since the 1960s.)

Measures similar to the Oregon initiative were on the November 2004 ballots in California and Washington state. 54 percent of California voters opposed Prop. 62, as it lost in 51 of the state's 58 counties. Washington's I-872, however, carried all 39 of that state's counties and won nearly 60 percent of the vote. The Washington "top two"-- a much more accurate name for this system-- has since been involved in litigation and has not been implemented.

Last March 18, the U. S. Supreme Court gave the go-ahead for the Washington "top two" to proceed. The first round will be held on August 19, with the runoff, of course, on November 4. It's obvious, nonetheless, that Washington's political parties will bring new litigation against the "top two."

Louisiana has heretofore been the only state to use the "top two"-- which Bayou staters also call the "open primary"-- for all of its elections other than for president. Louisiana, however, has this year restored party primaries for its congressional elections.

The Washington "top two" will be used for all congressional and state offices and most local offices, while Oregon's initiative is for all offices other than president. This election system is, in my view, clearly unconstitutional for congressional elections, and I believe that there will be a lawsuit challenging that aspect of it.

Nebraska, the only state with a one-house legislature, uses the "top two" to elect that legislature.

Oregon's political parties, like California's, are stronger than the parties in Washington state, and I predict that the "Oregon Open Primary" will have a tougher time winning the voters' approval than the Washington "top two" did.

Here's a good article on the Oregon initiative.


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