Oregon’s current closed party primary system keeps unaffiliated and minor party voters out of important decision-making in our primary elections. There are now more than 1,022,000 nonaffiliated voters in Oregon — more than the total in either the Democratic or Republican parties in our state.
However, in each primary election, hundreds of thousands of registered Oregon voters are not permitted to vote in partisan primary elections for their preferred candidates. In Oregon, the two major parties (Democratic and Republican) have “closed primary elections.”
This means that you have to be a member of that party in order to vote in their closed election. The party choice deadline is 21 days before Election Day, the same day as the voter registration deadline: Tuesday, April 26.
These non-affiliated voters share with me as their local election official that “I’m not a member of a party so my vote doesn’t count.” Voters feel disenfranchised and that spills over into apathy and a mistrust of the system as a whole.
In Clackamas County alone, more than 99,000 voters are Non-Affiliated (meaning that they do not belong to any party) and another almost 22,000 voters belong to the Independent Party of Oregon or other minor parties.
That means that 121,000 voters, or 40% of registered voters in Clackamas County won’t have a say in who our next governor is and won’t have a say in who their representatives are in the state Senate, state House, U.S. Senate, or U.S. Congress in the upcoming May Primary Election.
They won’t be able to participate until they are simply making a choice between one Democrat, one Republican, and sometimes, a third-party candidate.
As an elections administrator and voter education advocate, I know that voters often do not realize they are unable to choose the next governor or next president until they receive their ballot in the mail and it does not show those partisan offices or the candidate they were planning to vote for.
The bad news is that after you receive your ballot, it is too late to choose a party. The rules are determined by the two major political parties and the state constitution allows the exclusion of all non-party members.
What can you do about it?
Right Now: Decide if you want to vote in the Republican primary, the Democratic primary, or abstain and have only nonpartisan offices on your ballot for the May 17 primary election. Update your party choice online at oregonvotes.gov/myvote before the April 26 deadline (11:59 p.m. online, close of business in-person, or postmarked by April 26 on a registration form).
Then: Follow and support initiative petitions like 2022-039 that would allow voters to decide on the November General Election ballot if in fact the Oregon Constitution should be amended to replace the Closed Party Primary with an Open Primary for state and federal offices. This would allow all registered voters to select candidates in the Primary to move on to the General Election.
Catherine McMullen is a local election official in West Linn and candidate for the nonpartisan position of county clerk. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 971-212-5690.
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