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 http://www.eugeneweekly.com/20141002/guest-viewpoint/dangerous-deceptive