This week Secretary of State Kate Brown held a meeting of minor party representatives to discuss establishing a minor party partisan primary election in Oregon. Present at the meeting along with Secretary Brown and Oregon Elections Director Jim Williams were representatives of the Independent Party of Oregon, the Pacific Green Party, the Libertarian Party of Oregon and the Working Families Party of Oregon.
Under current law, the State pays millions of dollars for the nomination process of the major parties, but minor parties are left to fund and run their own nomination process. Two minor parties, the Libertarian and Independent Parties of Oregon, have financed a private primary from their own funds. However, outreach is costly and security is difficult without state resources, limiting the scope of the elections.
While some minor parties may elect not to participate in a State run minor party primary, those that do could see higher member engagement, and a higher profile for their candidates. Public elections just do that. Particularly if covered by the media.
This is particularly true in Oregon which allows cross nominations. Under Oregon’s cross nomination law, the winner of a major party nomination can also seek the nomination of one or more minor parties. So if Oregon were to adopt a minor party partisan primary election, some parties would likely feature Democratic and Republican candidates as well as minor party member candidates. And, if a major party candidate won a minor parties nomination, the candidate would appear on the general election ballot as the nominee of both parties. A distinct advantage for a major party candidate.
Is there a need for a minor party partisan primary? Approximately 8% of Oregon voters are minor party members. Another 22% are unaffiliated with any party. Republican voters make up 30% of registered voters and Democratic voters account for almost 40%. As Democratic and Republican voter shares continue to fall while non affiliated and minor voter registrations continue to climb. And, new voters – those that have never registered before- particularly mellenials, are choosing to register as unaffiliated or as Independent Party voters at higher rates than they register as Democratic or Republican.
The questions we should ask are – is it proper to fund the nomination process for 70% of our voters, but not the other 30% (and growing)? Is it Oregon’s interest to give voters more options? And should minor parties seek more active participation by their members and if so, isn’t it in the best interests of Oregon to make sure that their selection process is as inclusive and fair and secure as it is for major parties?
Will it cost a bit of money to operate a minor party primary? Yes. But if we believe that everyone’s vote should count the same. That ballot security should not be determined by the ability of a minor party to pay for it. That the majority shouldn’t be entitled to special benefits. And that Oregon not only deserves options for new candidates, but needs them, then the cost would be well worth it.
By – Rob Harris