“Being Non Affiliated should no longer be an option for voters who want change because coordinated action is required. Power does not cede anything without a demand and a single voter has no ability to make a demand. The Two major/major parties have the power. What demands can a voter make when she can’t vote for anyone other than who the most partisan Democratic or Republican voters offer to you in November?”
(The original version of this article was published Decembeer 28, 2015. If this election proves anything, it’s that our political structure is in need of an overhaul. There are changes we can make to improve our democracy, but we’ve got to use our current laws and structure, which wants to protect the status quo, to achieve these reforms. )
A growing number of Voters in Oregon and nationwide feel they are not well represented by the Republican and Democratic Parties. It’s no wonder. A recent Pew Research Poll found that the partisan bases of each party have moved their parties further to their extreme camps while both continue to do the legislative bidding of their donor classes. And Oregon is one of the most polarized States in the country.
Moderate and independent minded voters have responded by disaffiliating from both major parties. But being a non affiliated voter (NAV) is a bad choice if a voter wants change.
Feels Good. Bad result
It may feel to a voter like they’re proclaiming their individual independence by not affiliating with a political party. But that “independence” comes at a price to our Democracy, and particularly in Oregon, a closed primary state.
It’s not bad to be independent, but because the two major/major parties have used the laws and elections rules to assure their party dominance. In 90% of the races in Oregon, an NAV ‘s vote is meaningless.
Oregon’s election laws protect the power of the Democratic and Republican Parties so they simply don’t have to care about what NAV’s think. First consider our election systems
- First past the post voting guarantees that only two “sides” emerge as viable candidates
- Closed primaries mean only major party voters participate which means that the most partisan Democrats and Republicans select the only to “viable” candidates. Especially as the parties shrink to a smaller and smaller group of the most partisan and assured.
- The media ignores third party or independent candidates, and sees their supporters as naïve at best. Maybe with some justification due to the laws that enshrine a two party system
- Sore loser laws and party registration requirements to participate in the primary are obstacles preventing more moderate Democrats or Republicans from running as independents in the November general election.
- And not least, Gerrymandering
Our election laws are structured so the Republican May nominee wins in red districts. The Democratic May nominee wins in blue districts. In fact, In some districts as few as 8% of the voters effectively elect their State Representatives because of safe gerrymandered districts and the shrinking size of the dominant party.
The result? Non affiliated voters are totally meaningless in 90% of the districts in a State with closed primaries and gerrymandered districts. If you’re a Republican living in Portland, or a Democrat living in Medford, you know how it feels.
The Path to Independent Power
In 2007 a new political party in Oregon emerged. The Independent Party of Oregon has grown to over 110,000 members making up more than 5% of all voters and has very quickly become the third largest political party in Oregon. It reached major party status in February, 2015 so its candidates appeared on the May Primary ballot alongside Republican and Democratic candidates. This is a huge deal. It really is. And the Democrats and Republicans know it. (if you don’t believe that, read some of the comments on every article the Oregonian has about the IPO)
The IPO hasn’t tried to change election laws to empower all voters– at least not yet – It understands the Democrats and Republicans will never voluntarily change laws that favor their parties. (Forget about ranked choice voting, or more open primaries for now) Instead the IPO read the election laws written by Democratic and Republican Legislators and working within those rules its empowering independent voters. And it’s had unprecedented success.
Upon acquiring major party status the first action party leaders took was to open its May primary to all Non Affiliated Voters. The 2016 primary is the first time in a long time that all of Oregon’s independent voters (Both big “I” and small “I”) can vote in the taxpayer paid for primary election. In fact the IPO May primary had almost as many eligible voters as the Oregon GOP primary. However, the Democratic Secretary of State refused to send Independent ballots to all non affilaited voters in May. Instead voters had to contact their county elections departments and ask for a ballot. So voter turnout among NAV’s was low.
But, the path the IPO has taken is how small “I” independent voters will influence Oregon politics. Independent voters can only assure a more equal vote if they join the IPO. That will do two things. First it will assure that the IPO retains major party status so it can continue to be a platform for independent candidates in the May primary. And second, it assures independent voters that they WILL be mailed a ballot every May.
As more independent voters join the Independent Party it will encourage civic minded independents and even moderate Democrats and Republicans in gerrymandered districts, to run for office as independents.
How it Works
In 2014 in House District 23 the moderate Republican incumbent Jim Thompson was defeated in the GOP primary by tea party social conservative Mike Nearman. HD 23 will never vote Democratic. It’s a safe red district. And Jim Thompson is too moderate for the small insular leadership of the GOP. So Thompson re-registered as an Independent Party member and is on this Novembers ballot for HD 23 against Mike Nearman. It’s a one on one race as no Democrat qualified for the ballot. And, while the moderate independent Jim Thompson had a hard time in the GOP primary, he has a clear shot at winning a general election as a conservative independent candidate.
So far we haven’t seen a similar race in a safe blue district. But it doesn’t take much to imagine that a main street progressive business owner Independent, or even an anti corporate progressive could challenge someone like Democrat Tina Kotek in deep blue Multnomah county.
Why give up your vote?
The Democrats and Republicans have effectively neutralized non affiliated voters through election laws that protect their duopoly and don’t even try to attract moderate voters to their ranks. Instead they shrink the party by pandering to the motivated one issue voters to fortify their base and then accept money from special interest to run negative ads against their opponents.
Being Non Affiliated should no longer be an option for voters who want change because coordinated action is required. Power does not cede anything without a demand and a single voter has no ability to make a demand. The Two major/major parties have the power. What demands can a voter make when she can’t vote for anyone other than who the most partisan Democratic or Republican voters offer to you in November?
But be patient. This is a long process. The IPO candidate list will be short in May. It may not even feature a legislative candidate in your voting district. It will however feature at least two Statewide candidates. Chris Telfer for Treasurer and Cliff Thomason for Governor. And that’s a lot more choices than NAV and Independent voters have ever had in a May primary.
Make your voice heard. Back the opportunity to express yourself through your vote in May. Reregister as an IPO member or if you remain an NAV contact your County election office and let them know you want an IPO ballot in May. (See notes below for instructions on how to participate in the IPO’r first May primary election)
Don’t shrink away. Make a demand.
A word about the IPO’s Platform and growth
- How did it grow so fast? Not with a detailed orthodox platform like the Libertarian or Progressive Party. In fact just the opposite. It has sought consensus on issues to establish four policy pillars that cut across the traditional left/right paradigm. On these pillars, IPO candidates will have to build their own more nuanced platforms to stand on. In a way, the IPO doesn’t have a traditional platform, but it has provided a foundation for independent candidates to stand on where they can explain their independent platform to their constituents. In Medford that will look different than Portland. But they will all adhere to the policy pillars. And based on those pillars and consensus, a majority can emerge through negotiation, common sense, and a sense of responsibility to voters, and not to a donor class or a radical partisan base.
- To participate in the IPO primary, you can joining the IPO by registering or changing your registration online at https://secure.sos.state.or.us/orestar/vr/showVoterSearch.do?lang=eng&source=SOS
- If you are a non affiliated voter who wants to participate in the IPO 2016 May primary, you will need to contact your County Elections office and make a written request for an IPO ballot. The contact information for the County elections office in your county can be located here. http://sos.oregon.gov/elections/Pages/countyofficials.aspx