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Make all voters be heard

MY VIEW • An open primary would end party nominations
by: SAUL LOEB, The chief petitioner for the Oregon Open Primary initiative says the open system would give all voters, not just party members, a choice at the polling place — or, in Oregon’s case, on the mail-in ballot.

Robert Eisinger alleges that the Oregon Open Primary proposal (for which I’m the chief petitioner) would open the door to vast amounts of partisan mischief, even sabotage. How? By allowing fierce partisans to “sandbag” the other party’s nomination process — posing as Democrats or Republicans in order to help select the “weaker” nominee as their enemy’s standard-bearer. How nefariously brilliant. How utterly wrong. I respect Eisinger’s academic credentials and his often astute analysis of election issues, so I want to be kind, but pointed, when I say this: Professor, please relegate that “plethora of scholarly literature” to the “interesting, but irrelevant” dustbin where it belongs. Go back and read the actual Oregon Open Primary ballot initiative so you will understand how it’s fundamentally different from the so-called “open primaries” you criticize. First, a quick explanation of how it would work. For a May primary election, the Oregon Open Primary system would give every Oregon voter, regardless of party affiliation (or lack thereof), the same ballot. All candidates seeking key offices now elected on a partisan basis — e.g. U.S. Senate, governor and state Legislature — would compete. Voters could vote for their favorite candidate in each race, regardless of their or the candidates’ actual party registration. The top two voter-getters — again, regardless of party affiliation — then would advance to the November election. In Oregon’s upcoming May 20 primary, only registered Republicans and Democrats can participate in choosing official “party nominees” for key offices. Nonaffiliated voters — so called “independents” — and minor-party members are excluded from these races. But note the key point here: The top two candidates under our open primary will advance to the November general election regardless of their party affiliation (or lack thereof). Republicans using their vote to select a “weak Democrat” would be acting in a self-defeating, even stupid way — since every vote they throw away puts the Republican candidate they presumably favor at risk of not even making it to the general election. In effect, the problem Eisinger is so exorcised about vanishes when you abolish political party nominations. Yes, fierce, red-blooded Republicans can walk into a Mississippi polling place and be a “Democrat for a Day,” for purposes sincere or nefarious. But they’ll be working to help choose the Democratic nominee. Under our proposed ballot measure, party nominees are gone. Again, the top two vote-getters go to the November ballot, regardless. Two Democrats? Two Republicans? One of each? A Libertarian vs. an Independent? Any and all combinations are possible — and that’s precisely the point. Every candidate will need to earn their spot on the November ballot — and no political party will be guaranteed a “candidate” any longer, no matter how big (or small) their membership base. And one final point. This initiative will not — and legally, cannot — change Oregon’s next presidential primary, to be held in 2012. (So all Eisinger’s Obama-Clinton analysis would be irrelevant then, too). Legally, since no official state office is involved, the presidential contest is more accurately a taxpayer-financed “preference poll,” results of which two private organizations (the state Democratic and Republican parties) have decided to follow in allocating their delegates to their respective conventions. This raises a host of other fascinating questions — but a subject for a different column. For information — and to download a petition to help get the open primary on the ballot — I encourage readers to visit www.oneballot.com. Phil Keisling, a former Oregon secretary of state (1991-99) and chief sponsor of the Oregon Open Primary initiative, is a vice president with Oregon-based CorSource Technology Group. He lives in Southeast Portland.