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Free Citizen

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

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Parties Oppose The "Open Primary"

The Hankster is an excellent blog which is "of, by and for Independents across America." Its publisher is my friend Nancy Hanks, who is a transplanted Southerner based in New York City. Yesterday Nancy posted a link to a column about Oregon's ballot initiative, Measure 65, which proposes a Louisiana-style "top two" (a.k.a. "open primary") election system for the Beaver State. This is my comment on that column:

Under "Reform," the headline on the piece about the Oregon ballot measure is misleading. NO political party supports Measure 65 (M65), since it would take away the parties' ability to officially nominate candidates.

Under this monstrosity, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the runoff; this makes it nearly impossible for independents and small party candidates to reach the runoff and thus have a chance to be elected. The two final candidates are almost always a Democrat and a Republican, two Democrats, OR two Republicans.

In a system of party primaries, there is no limit to the number of independents who can run for each office in the general election, and that's the only campaign that an independent has to wage. In the "top two" system, in contrast: if lightning strikes and an independent makes the runoff, s/he then must wage a SECOND general election campaign.

That's another downside of the "top two" monstrosity: the top two finishers are forced to wage TWO general election campaigns; this makes campaigns more expensive and hence discourages candidates from running.

M65 hardly qualifies as "reform." In California (which has had nonpartisan ["top two"] county and municipal elections for nearly 100 years now), the voters rejected the "top two" for state offices in 1915 and for state AND congressional offices in 2004.

When a small party's message is kept out of the final election, the party loses its main reason for existing (in a system of party primaries, to be sure, each party has the right to have one candidate for each office on the general election ballot).

Why should the voters be limited to only two choices for each office in the final, deciding election?


Anonymous Linda Williams said...

Oregon's top-two (misleadingly called an "open primary" by its sponsors) has many defects.

It silences third party movements which have historically brought ideas and vigor to the mainstream.

1. Destroys most minor parties in OR.

Under OR law most minor political parties maintain their legal status by running a candidate who gets 1% of the vote in a statewide general election (the alternative is a level of voter registration which few minor parties achieve, currently about 10,000 members). Since minor party candidates will never reach the general election ballot under this system, OR Greens, Peace, Working Families & Constitution parties will be dissolved. (Disclaimer here--altho I am chair of the Independent Party of Oregon, this is not "sour grapes." IPO has greatly exceeded registration requirement to remain viable, but the idea of censoring other minor parties and their issues is repugnant).

2. Shuts out voter-sponsored candidates.

The top-two will eliminate the current alternative methods of voter-sponsored general election ballot access-- petitioning and elector assembly--already quite difficult to achieve, but now abolished.

Encourages (even more) Big Money and Secret Endorsement Deals.

3. Under BM 65, no party can "nominate" a candidate--a bad idea with several repercussions. Candidates run file in the "primary" using the label of the party with which they are registered. This forces the parties to hold secret meetings to "endorse" a candidate and avoid vote splitting between the many (some phony) registrants identifying themselves as "Republican" or "Democratic" or "Independent>"

4. The money race will start in the winter to line up big bucks for the May primary (OR vote-by-mail ballots go out in April).

Badly drafted.

5. Measure does not actually repeal other nominating processes or harmonize with much of the remaining election law statutes. Actual implementation is highly uncertain.

5. BM65 applies to federal congressional races. The inability of the parties to have actual party "nominees" in the general election (the top-two are called "voter choice" nominees) makes party status as a "state party committee" under federal election law uncertain.(Whatever an "endorsement" may be under BM 65, it is not a legally defined term and is not a "nomination," which is the formal act of a party to place a candidate on the general election ballot for voter consideratin.

The only way a state party can coordinate with, and financially support its federal candidate lawfully, is to be a recognized by an Advisory Opinion from the FEC that it is the "state party committee" of the federal candidate. 2 USC sec 431(16) and 11 CFR sec 100.16.

Wed Aug 27, 10:14:00 AM CDT  
Blogger N. Hanks said...

Steve, thanks for the link to the link. And you are correct that the headline of the linked article "OREGON REPUBLICANS & DEMOCRATS TEAM UP TO END THIRD PARTY COMPETITION" is misleading. Indeed it refers to the fact that two former Secretaries of State, one a Dem and one Repub, are working together to pass Measure 65, the "top two" primary referendum that will go before the voters in November.

In a classic attempt to get independents to vote against M65, opponents claim that it hurts third parties. Since when are major party hacks concerned about excluding minor parties from the ballot????

Steve, you make the party primary system sound downright fair and equitable! But surely you are aware that the best scenario for an independent or minor party candidate is a non-partisan election. That's the most fair election for an "underdog". That's the kind of election that grassroots leaders can win. That's why the major parties are so concerned about M65.

And why should the voters pay for closed partisan primaries???

There is a fight shaping up in America between the parties and the voters. Voters are becoming more savvy, more active and more independent of partisan politics.

Open primaries became a national issue in this election campaign because independents were allowed to vote in some states but not in others, and most voters feel that's unfair.

Partisan politics, whether it's major party or minor party, is on the way out. Non-partisan politics is the future.

Wed Aug 27, 04:06:00 PM CDT  
Blogger N. Hanks said...

Linda - As a long-time activist in independent politics, and the Secretary of the Queens County Independence Party of New York, I am disappointed but unfortunately not surprised by the IP of Oregon's position on open primaries.

Open primaries is important for independent voters to be able to participate in elections in a meaningful way. Many independent voters choose third party candidates in the elections. How would you lose their support in the first round of voting (what you continue to call "the primary") if they were allowed to vote?

What you're calling the general election would effectively become the runoff between the top two vote getters in the open first round of voting.

Open primaries empower the voters, not parties. If the IPO cares about democracy, they will reconsider their position and support independent voters.

Thu Aug 28, 10:55:00 AM CDT  
Blogger danmeek said...

Hi, Nancy. The IPO has not taken an official position on the top-two, BM 65. I'm personally opposed to it as an election law attorney and advocate of direct democracy.

I've worked on many direct democracy campaigns (OR initiative), efforts to form public power districts by petition, and the Independent Party was formed by citizen petition--these kinds of movement efforts are always under seige.

By eliminating minor party and citizen-sponsored candidates, BM 65 takes away still another level of contact in the public square.

I don't think you are responding to my very specific comments. The measure does not repeal or harmonize with dozens of statutes--either these are implicitly repealed, or in conflict--but sloppy drafting is a problem. We need a lawsuit, or legislative fix to some of the problems I note.

Another problem, specific to Oregon, which you do not address is that Oregon has no campaign contribution limits at all on the state level (despite a successful statutory ballot measure in 2006), so the influence of special interest money in state races is especially pernicious,

With ballots going out in mid-April the competition to raise money from the special interests will start early and with no transparency. Corporate money will “choose” the top-two months before the general election in November, and then big money will “elect” the winner.

Even with vote-by-mail, turnout in the May primary is way below that in the November general election. Sometimes the need for a citizen-sponsored or insurgent candidate is not obvious until after the results of that May primary.

I don't see how killing minor parties, stifling voter-sponsored candidates and elevating big money special interests to an even greater level of dominance in Oregon politics can be good for independents or any citizen.

BTW Oregon Constitution requires a primary in May, so the drafters are stuck with calling what is really a non-partisan run-off type election a "primary."

I certainly appreciate your efforts at empowering independent voters, but I think this is just a bad measure. As independents, we're just going to disagree on this measure!

Thu Aug 28, 06:22:00 PM CDT  
Anonymous Linda Williams said...

Linda here--the foregoing comments are my response to Nancy, not Dan's.
(i see he does have a google blogger acct). 'm sure he'll weigh in.

Fri Aug 29, 11:07:00 AM CDT  

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