Dan Meek: Measure 65 will destroy minor parties, choices.

By Dan Meek,

Measure 65 will destroy minor parties in Oregon, reduce voter choices, confuse the ballots, encourage dirty politicking, and not elect moderate candidates anyway. Today, Oregon’s six minor parties can provide good alternatives to the Democratic and Republican candidates in the November general election. Measure 65 will stop this.

Fewer choices. Measure 65 will abolish the Pacific Green, Constitution, Working Families, and Peace parties by removing their legal basis to exist (getting 1% of the vote in a statewide general election). Without that, they would each need to maintain a membership of about 10,256 registered voters (1/2 of 1% of all registered voters)–which none of them has. Yes, the 2009 Legislature could potentially “fix” this problem, but why should these minor parties need to rely on the major parties in the Legislature to ensure their existence, and why should we expect the major parties to help them?

Measure 65 is also intended by its sponsors to remove all minor party and citizen-sponsored candidates from the general election ballot, including those supported by tens of thousands of signatures, although the language of the measure actually does not remove the minor party and “non-affiliated” routes to the general election ballot. This will have to be litigated.

More Dirty Tricks. Measure 65 will allow effective ballot sabotage and party identity theft.

Under Measure 65, anyone can register as, say, a “Republican” up to and including the 70th day before the primary election and immediately file to run for public office, with “Registered: Republican” next to his name on the ballot, whether or not anyone in the Republican Party knows him (he may be a Nazi, Communist, convicted child molester, etc.). This can happen to any party, under Measure 65.

Each party will try to reduce the resulting voter confusion by “endorsing” a candidate in each race, since Measure 65 also allows such party endorsements to appear on the ballot next to each candidate’s name. This means Measure 65 will replace the major party primaries with backroom “endorsement” deals.

It will also force minor parties to “endorse” candidates they do not agree with, just to oppose the strangers on the ballot who suddenly claim to be “their” candidates. Minor parties typically do not have candidates for every partisan office. For example, they rarely nominate more than a few candidates for the 75 seats in the Oregon Legislature that are up for election every 2 years. But Measure 65 allows anyone to walk into a county elections office, register as a member of a minor party, and file to be identified on the ballot as “Registered: Name of Minor Party.” This will force the minor parties to endorse major party candidates in races where the minor party does not have its own candidate, even if none of the major party candidates agrees with the minor party on the issues.

Primary elections could become a game of “ringers,” with political consultants recruiting phony candidates just to split the votes of the other parties. Republican consultants could recruit people to register and file as “Democratic” candidates, thereby splitting the Democratic vote and allowing two Republican candidates to win the “top two” primary and proceed to the general election, alone. Democrats could recruit phony “Republicans.” Both of them could recruit phony “Independents” and phony “Libertarians,” etc. Every party in every primary election can be sabotaged this way, under Measure 65.

Expect a confusing ballot, with a dozen or more candidates for each major office who are “Registered” and/or “Endorsed” by the surviving parties.

Not Elect Moderate Candidates. Further, the stated purpose of Measure 65 is to have a primary system that advances more “moderate” candidates to the general election, instead of having a rabid conservative as the Republican nominee and a flaming liberal as the Democratic nominee. Personally, I cannot think of any flaming liberals who have won nomination to statewide office in Oregon since . . . Wayne Morse in 1974. But in the only place where the Measure 65 system has actually operated, Louisiana, it has hardly advanced moderates to the general election. I sincerely doubt that avowed racist and neo_Nazi David Duke could have won any party primary in Oregon, but he did advance to the statewide Louisiana general election, twice, under the “top two” primary there. It seems that such a primary tends to elect radicals, because the moderate vote is split among several moderate candidates for each office. The organization FairVote states:

A Republican state legislator, Duke ran a strong second in the 1990 U.S. Senate election and gained a spot in the runoff election in the governor’s race in 1991. In that 1991 runoff, he faced Edwin Edwards, a former governor with a history of suspected corruption. Indicating the polarized nature of the choice between Duke and Edwards, a popular bumper sticker in favor of Edwards was: “Vote the Crook: It’s Important.”

In the 1995 governor’s race, sixteen candidates ran in the opening round, including four major candidates who ultimately won at least 18% of the vote. The two most ideologically extreme major candidates were Mike Foster, a conservative Republican who earned Pat Buchanan’s endorsement and inherited much of David Duke’s constituency, and Cleo Fields. a leading liberal Democrat in the Congressional Black Caucus. They advanced to the runoff election with a combined vote of only 45% of votes casts, with the more centrist vote split among other candidates. Foster ultimately was elected in the runoff election.

A Louisiana-style nonpartisan primary easily can produce these kind of results because in a large field of candidates, the top two vote-getters can have relatively few votes. In a multi-candidate field, this rule tends to favor non-moderate candidates with the strongest core support that can be narrow rather than broad

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