MY VIEW • Primary proposal leaves voters in the ‘jungle’
Regarding “Make all voters be heard” (My View, April 18), former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling is circulating an “open” primary initiative where Democratic, Republican and (perhaps) other party candidates would all be on the same ballot in May. Voters will pick from the perhaps dozens of candidates, and the top two vote-getters will move on to the general election. No one else will be allowed on the November ballot, according to Keisling, but that is not at all certain since careless drafting leaves crucial statutes relating to minor party nominations untouched. The Mississippi open primary, which Robert Eisinger mentions (Primary is closed for a reason, My View, April 11), already has been found unconstitutional by a federal district court because it forced the parties to allow any voter to vote in the party primary, even those registered with opponents, and offered no alternative method of party nomination. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard the appeal in March, and it is likely to agree with the 4th Circuit, which found Virginia’s forced open primary unconstitutional late last year. But, really, the current proposal is not an “open primary” at all. In Keisling v. Myers, Keisling argued that the ballot title should include the term “open primary.” Oregon’s Supreme Court disagreed: It called his description inaccurate. “Petitioners’ assertion that adoption of the proposed measure would simply set up a ‘parallel’ primary system is inaccurate. The new system would obliterate the old.” The court added that the system would radically alter the general election ballot as well. Maybe “open” just sounds better than “partisan” and “closed,” but the scheme will eliminate party primaries completely. This is a “jungle” or “blanket” primary. That is the term applied by the U.S. Supreme Court to distinguish this kind of top-two system from lawful open primaries (those which allow the parties to open their partisan primaries, but do not require it). Do voters have more choices in this “jungle”? The only state with this system in place is Louisiana, not a state Oregon usually looks to for improving election practices. If you like general elections that feature a choice between extremists or big-money candidates only, you’ll favor this proposal. The top-two often have as little as 18 percent of the vote and yet advance because they need relatively few votes in a crowded field. In a multicandidate field, top-two actually favors nonmoderate candidates with the strongest core support. This lack of moderation is the exact opposite of one of the stated goals of this measure. Louisiana is notorious for candidates like David Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, winning or coming close to winning high public office. Linda Williams is chairwoman of the Independent Party of Oregon and a lawyer living in Southwest Portland. The IPO has taken no position on the measure.