Open primary worthy of state consideration

Some 25 percent of Oregon voters can't fully participate in all elections because of the state's closed primaries. That all could change this fall.

Among the ballot initiatives that have "unofficially" qualified for the November general election is one that would change state law and make primaries open elections. It's a concept worth consideration.

The "open primary" initiative, sponsored by two former Oregon secretaries of state -- Democrat Phil Keisling and Republican Norma Paulus -- and backed by a number of Oregon political heavyweights and business organizations, would transform Oregon's political system by essentially abolishing party primary elections.

Under the initiative, all candidates for a political office would run in a single primary election, which would be open to all voters, regardless of party registration. The two candidates with the highest number of votes in the primary, regardless of party affiliation, would advance to the general election.

You probably don't need to read any further to know that the measure is opposed by the Republican and Democratic parties, which believe the change in policy could lock their candidates out of the general election should two individuals from the same party emerge as the top vote-getters.

But changing to an open primary likely would increase voter turnout in all elections and reduce partisanship in state politics -- much to the delight of average citizens, many of whom have become so disenchanted with politics in our state in recent years that they have thrown in the towel when in comes to elections and simply quit voting.

The change would benefit registered Independents, who have become an increasingly major player in state elections due to their growing numbers. Independent voters cannot participate in Oregon's Republican and Democratic primaries under current law. The closed primaries mean Republicans may only vote for Republicans, and Democrats may only vote for Democrats. The rest of the registered voters can only watch and are left out of the primary process.

It's time to change that process and make all elections in Oregon an all-inclusive process. Our state has a history of leadership when it comes to the electoral and initiative process. The popular vote-by-mail system is just one of the leading examples. Moving to an open primary seems like a logical next step.


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