Below is an article by Greg Wasson.
Political parties did not exist in 1787; nor, are they mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. Despite this, the newly-created electorate rapidly fragmented.
By the time Oregon joined the Union, parties defined American political life. Chief among their tools: The right to decide who got the privilege of running for political office. Hardly democratic.
Even a basic understanding of that term supports the notion that choosing the various candidates is at least as important as choosing the eventual winner.
In 1904, tired of the “Tweedledee-Tweedledum” general elections offered by the party bosses, Oregonians initiated the Direct Primary Law, allowing voters, not political conventions, to determine the nominees. The law also allowed electors to both vote in their party’s primary and sign the nominating petition of “any independent or nonpartisan candidate.”
After all, if my main concern is, say, the unhealthy influence of money on state and federal elections, and, if those at the top of my state party’s slate don’t share that focus, why shouldn’t I be allowed to help choose who represents me in the legislature, and, then throw my support behind an independent gubernatorial or Presidential candidate scared of dollars, too.
Or, what if the nominee dies before the general election and my neighbor is dissatisfied with the replacement chosen by her party’s central committee? Why shouldn’t she be free seek an independent candidate more in sync with her views?
If you run the parties, the answers are obvious — allowing individuals to stray from the reservation, as it were, reduces your power.
Since 1904, Oregon’s political parties have belonged to the voters; not, the other way around.
Unfortunately, the people who write the elections laws can’t claim the same independence. These legislators naturally support electoral machinery that guarantees their bloc’s success.
Unfortunately, for them, organized malcontents like Al Mobely, termed-out stars like Tom McColl, and, national crusaders like Ralph Nader occasionally threaten to crash the party.
The 2005 Oregon Legislature — composed almost entirely of party stalwarts — took away the 100-plus-year-old right to both vote in a party primary and sign an independent candidate’s nominating petition.
Upset that the party-dominated legislature, for such self-serving reasons, robbed me of this political flexibility, I filed Wasson v. Bradbury, a federal suit alleging violation of my federal constitutional rights.
But, even before considering my arguments, the federal district Court declared that, because I wasn’t a candidate, and, didn’t identify any particular candidate I wished to support, I lacked a personal stake in the matter.
According to the district court, only candidates, or, those championing their cause, have the right to complain about rules governing the elections process.
The individual voter, concerned about his or her political liberty, has to wait for one of the “real” players in the political process to raise the concern.
This just seems wrong.
Besides, what if I’m right?
What if the 9th Circuit follows its recent decisions and agrees that the 2005 Oregon Legislature gave me standing when it passed the party protection law, and, the Secretary of State promised enforcement?
What if the 1st Amendment really does protect Oregonians’ right to help choose the state and local councils that run their lives, and, then, participate, directly, in the nomination of Ben Westlund for Governor, John Frohnmayer for U.S. Senate, or, Mike Bloomberg for U.S. President?
The district court probably ensured that success — if, and when, it comes — will require more than one appeal. It’s almost a given that, even if I’m right, Oregonians will have to endure this party overreaching for at least one, if not two, more election cycles.
In America, the people are the government.
Unless, of course, the government finds it inconvenient.
Greg Wasson has spent 10 years researching the history of the evolution of popular rule in America. He operates a research service based at the Oregon State Archives Oregon State Archives. He specializes in researching the Oregon Revised Statutes, as enacted and changed by the Oregon Legislature.