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Independent Party might be able to scratch off write-ins

SALEM — The Independent Party of Oregon will not be bound by the results of a May write-in election for its presidential nominee.

That is the upshot of a memorandum issued in late April by the Oregon Department of Justice. It came in response to a dispute between the Independent Party of Oregon and the secretary of state’s office, which administers statewide elections. The Independent Party of Oregon has no declared candidates for president, and party leaders had hoped to retain the ability to choose how the party would nominate a candidate for the November general election.

However, Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins issued a decision early this year that would have forced the Independent Party to select a presidential nominee in the May primary through a write-in process. Atkins changed course this week and found that although the Independent Party still must hold a write-in primary, the party does not have to nominate the winner as its presidential candidate. State law requires write-in spaces for all offices on ballots, according to the Oregon Department of Justice.

“Nothing in Oregon election law requires the (Independent Party of Oregon) to nominate a write-in candidate who successfully wins the May 17, 2016, (Independent Party of Oregon) primary election for president as their nominee on the November ballot,” Atkins wrote in a letter to the party April 18. The letter was based on the latest findings by the Oregon Department of Justice.

‘Free to operate within the law’

The Independent Party wanted to either avoid a presidential primary altogether or allow party members to vote cross-nominated candidates from a list of other parties’ presidential candidates.

Atkins found last month that neither of those options was legal. Molly Woon, communications director for Atkins, said last month that unlike the Democratic and Republican parties, the Independent Party had “no delegate selection process or national party affiliation.” The Independent Party has since adopted a new party rule to establish a presidential candidate nomination process, according to the Department of Justice memorandum.

“Essentially, the secretary of state conceded pretty much every legal point that we made,” Sal Peralta, secretary for the Independent Party, said last week. “But from a practical standpoint, the damage was already done ... They’re forcing the counties to hand count a presidential preference ballot line that should never had been printed in the first place. And they attempted to force us to directly nominate a candidate for president, without placing any presidential names on our ballot line.”

Peralta said the secretary of state’s actions did have one benefit for the Independent Party: They prompted the party to begin working more closely with third parties in other states to create a network that will allow their candidates to appear on more ballots.

In a statement April 20, Laura Terrill, a spokeswoman for Atkins, suggested the Independent Party should make its presidential nomination process public.

“The secretary is concerned that the law be followed, and the Oregon Department of Justice has confirmed that the (Independent Party of Oregon) is not required to nominate its write-in winner for president,” Terrill wrote. “Now that the law is clear, the (Independent Party of Oregon) is free to operate within the law. Because of the potential for voter confusion, however, the secretary has encouraged the (Independent Party of Oregon) to make its process clear on their website or other places where the public can be informed.”