Sunday, October 12, 2014

Measure 90 is Dangerous and Deceptive

As one who has worked for twenty five years in Oregon to increase voter choice and participation, I can say this about Measure 90:  it is one of the most dangerous and deceptive election “reform” proposals I have even seen.

Whether or not the Big Money proponents of this ill-conceived measure intend to sabotage the democratic process and silence the voices of independent voters, that will be its effect.  Considering that this measure is supported by some of the biggest lobbying groups in the state (who, in turn, receive support from the Koch Brothers), that could well be the intent.  Why else would Associated Oregon Industries pour $50,000 into this proposal?  This is the group that has fought every minimum wage hike tooth and nail.  AOI and the Koch Brothers interest in democratic reforms begins and ends with how “democratic reforms” can benefit AOI and the Koch Brothers.

Still, politics does make for strange bedfellows and some good citizens have been caught up in the ridiculous rhetoric and nonsensical claims of the measure’s proponents.   Although Measure 90 will allow all voters to vote in the primary, that election is usually a waste of time that few people bother participating in.  Measure 90 won’t change that.  The real change will come in November—when all voters will be restricted to having the “choice” of just two candidates in each race.

Here’s what will happen if Measure 90 passes:  if you’re an independent voter, you’ll get to vote in the primary.  However, only two candidates for each office will be on the ballot for the election that really counts—the main election in November.  In November, when you vote for Governor or Congress or the U.S. Senate, there will be only Republicans and Democrats on the ballot.  There will be no independent candidates; no Greens, no Libertarians, no other “third party” candidates.  In some races, only Republicans will be on the ballot; in others, only Democrats.  The proposal that is supposedly all about empowering independent voters will give independent voters the “choice” of voting only for Republicans and Democrats in November—at the one election that really matters.  When Washington and California have used this same system, no third party or independent candidate for statewide office has ever been on the November ballot. 
The sad truth is that our elections are broken and in desperate need of reform.  Measure 90’s backers are exploiting this desperation.  What is unfortunate is that there are any number of reforms that would increase diversity and participation in elections and would do it without the many ill effects of Measure 90.  If “closed” primaries prevent participation, we could open them up.  Or, better yet, do away with primaries altogether.  The voter turnout rate is laughable, few races are actually contested, and taxpayers subsidize what should really be an internal function of the Democrats and Republicans.  So let’s just kill the primary altogether.  No one will be excluded, we’ll save a ton of money, campaigns will be shorter and we won’t have to worry about this Measure 90 nonsense.

Elections are about a lot more than winning and losing.  Elections are—or should be—about public policy, big ideas and a healthy debate about the future of our country.  Although “third parties” may not often win, they have been responsible for introducing “radical” ideas—such as marriage equality, cannabis legalization, and the abolition of slavery—into mainstream politics.  If Measure 90 passes, Oregon’s elections will be over in May—before most voters are even paying attention.  Come November, there will be only Republicans and Democrats on the ballot.  There will be no independent voices heard from May to November; no debate over issues like undeclared wars, NSA spying and the corporate control of our government.

Democracy is about choices.  Measure 90 limits our choices when choices matter most.  Protect democracy’s most precious right:  Vote No on 90.

This column was published in Eugene Weekly and on-line at

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Top Two is a Failure; Oregonians Deserve Better

There are three things Oregonians need to know about Measure 90, the Top Two election proposal on the November ballot.  First, Top Two will severely restrict voters’ rights to vote in all November elections.  Second, Top Two is undemocratic.  Third, there is absolutely no evidence that Top Two will improve our elections.

The right to vote is the most precious right in our country; it is the right on which all other rights depend.  Freedom of choice in the election process is what differentiates a democracy from, say, a dictatorship.  Although the big business backers of Top Two focus on the effects their proposal will have on primary elections, the November election is where it will truly wreak havoc with the democratic process.

In the November election, under Top Two, there will be only two candidates on the ballot in each race—and both candidates could be from the same party.  This has been the experience in Washington and California using Top Two:  elections where the “choice” is between two Republicans or two Democrats.

Limiting choices to just two in our most critical election is offensive to democratic ideals.  Most civilized nations offer their citizens a veritable menu of choices on Election Day.  Yet Top Two limits us to only two choices; one “choice” away from those afforded to you in China or Cuba.
Elections are about ideas and not simply about winning or losing.  With Top Two, the debate that would ensue after the May primary would be extremely narrow.  What if we could only get our news from ABC or CBS?  What if there were no newspapers or internet, no CNN or NPR or Fox or MSNBC? Would we accept those “choices”?  What if your “choice” for news was between ABC and ABC?  These are the kinds of “choices” which Top Two will produce.

In some districts, Republicans will be shut out of the November election; in others, it will be Democrats who are left out.  In every statewide race, there will be no independent or third party candidates on the ballot.   This will limit the debate not only for today but far into the future.  Traditionally, the role of third parties is to introduce ideas to the electorate long before they are commonly accepted.  Once seemingly “radical” ideas—from marriage equality and the abolition of slavery to ending cannabis prohibition and recognizing the right of women to vote—were all first championed by third parties.
The slight-of-hand proponents of Measure 90 claim that it will increase voter turnout and produce legislatures which are moderate.  There is absolutely no evidence to back either claim.  In fact, using Top Two, California just suffered the lowest voter turnout primary in its history.  And, according to a recently released study, California has the most polarized legislature in the United States.  When it comes to increasing voter turnout and producing “moderates,” the California experience demonstrates that Top Two is a complete failure.

Changing our elections is a great idea.  Our country is becoming increasingly diverse—as is Oregon to a much more modest extent.  Fewer people are also participating with the two major political parties.  We do need new election systems that will reflect this diversity of opinion and population.  There are many successful models used across the country and around the world which accomplish these noble goals.  Unfortunately, Top Two doesn’t aim for diversity or more choices.  It restricts choice and limits debate and participation.  Oregonians were right to resoundingly reject this ill-advised proposal by a 2-1 margin in 2008 and would be wise to do so again.

This essay appeared in The Oregonian and on-line at

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

DIY Direct Democracy

A seismic shift in the American political landscape has gone largely unnoticed.  Yet, the implication of this political earthquake knows no bounds.

On Tuesday, voters in two Oregon counties—one of them rural and conservative—voted to ban GMO’s.  In 2012, voters in five states legalized gay marriage and the recreational use of cannabis.  What is so remarkable about these victories is not just the incredible, rapidly shifting attitude of the electorate, but the fact that these successes came from voter-led initiatives.  In other words, these independent grassroots victories do not owe their success to any politician or political party.  

In fact, for years, activists who have pushed for marriage equality and cannabis legalization have been operating at the fringe of the political establishment.  Certainly, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats—the country’s dominant political forces—have embraced these two issues.  Perhaps nothing else better demonstrates both the shortcomings of the U.S. “representative democracy” and the potential of DIY Direct Democracy.

Our so-called representative democracy is neither representative nor democratic.  It is a hoax, a paradox, a cruel joke.  It’s an open secret that money buys elections; that Congress panders to their contributors and that popular support for issues generally fails to translate into political support inside of the Capitol.  But now, the joke may be on our elected representatives.

Remember the old bumper-sticker “If the people lead, the leaders will follow”?  Now it doesn’t really matter if the leaders follow.  If the people lead, the people will follow.  And that’s what’s important.

If such seemingly radical change as banning GMO’s, ending cannabis prohibition and ushering in an era of equality can be achieved at the ballot box, what else can be accomplished through citizen-led initiatives?  The answer:  just about anything.  In fact, citizen initiatives have already produced publicly funded local elections and, in cities from Minneapolis to San Francisco, major democratic improvements in the way in which local officials are elected. The initiative process can be used for virtually anything that could be legislated—subject only to the limitations of your imagination and your state’s constitution.

The success of activists in these three areas demonstrates the power of an alignment of an unrecognized majority of voters.  A majority of voters in jurisdictions from coast to coast have shown their support for issues that their elected representatives won’t touch with a 10 foot pole—or on which they’ve been slowing…“evolving.”  The beauty of DIY Direct Democracy is that it is issue-based and transcends political parties, political affiliation or no affiliation at all.  

Elected “representatives” won’t reflect the views of the public until we have serious political and electoral reform which addresses our winner-take-all elections, lack of public funding for political campaigns and the corporate domination of the election process.  However, the success of the DIY ballot initiatives proves that the American People are more open-minded, future-focused and solution-oriented than their “democratically elected” representatives.  Our government is out-of-touch and the methods we use to elect it are corrupt and mired in the past.

DIY Direct Democracy is the future of American democracy.  And it's here now.  

This essay was published at