Sunday, September 7, 2008

OR Measure 65: Top Two Run-Off Election System

CHANGES GENERAL ELECTION NOMINATION PROCESSES FOR MAJOR/MINOR PARTY, INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES FOR MOST PARTISAN OFFICES
OR Elections: SUMMARY: Currently, major parties nominate candidates to general election through party primaries; minor parties, independents nominate candidates directly to general election. Multiple candidates for office may appear on general election ballot. Measure changes those nomination process for most partisan offices, including United States Senator; Congressional Representative; Governor; Secretary of State; State Treasurer; Attorney General; State Senator; State Representative; any state, county, city, district office that is not nonpartisan/for which law authorizes political party nominations to general election. Primary ballots contain all prospective candidates; elector may vote for candidate regardless of elector's, candidate's party affiliation. Only top two candidates in primary compete in general election. Primary, general election ballots must contain candidates' party registration, endorsements. Eligible person, regardless of party affiliation, may fill vacancy. Other provisions.

[X] Yes

“Yes” vote changes general election nomination processes for most partisan offices; all candidates run in single primary; top two primary candidates compete in general election.

"Yes":
WWeek
The Oregonian
Portland Tribune
[_] No

“No” vote retains the current party primary election system, retains procedures for the nomination of minor political party and independent candidates to the general election.

"No":
Portland Mercury

Basic Rights OR
Jack Bogdanski
OR "Family" Council
Victoria Taft

Neutral:
OR Working Families Party
• Ecumenical Ministries (pdf)
League of Women Voters

MY FIRST IMPRESSION: Yes! The Red/Blue two-party system doesn't always make sense in local elections -- especially in voting districts that heavily favor a particular party. Candidate elections are most often about the candidate -- not the candidate's party. Top-two run-off also has the advantage of allowing voters to replace an incumbent without jeopardizing the party's seat. Also, top two increases the chances that a third party candidate could actually compete in a notoriously lop-sided district.

2 comments:

Linda Williams said...

I'm an attorney with election law experience and I'm personally committed to direct democracy. I've worked on and drafted statewide ballot measures, Public Utility District formation petitions, recall and referral petitions and local initiative drafting for 30 years.

I was the sponsor of the petition drive to form the Independent Party of Oregon, but the IPO has taken no position on the so-called "open primary," Ballot Measure 65 on the November ballot in Oregon, because of a split among the voting delegates, but I do not want to see the Constitution, Green, Working Families and Peace parties silenced. My opposition is not based on “sour grapes”– In fact, IPO is one of only 2 of the minor and emerging parties in Oregon which would survive the effects of BM 65, which will wipe out parties with fewer than 10,000 registered members who now maintain their legal status by running candidates who receive at least 1% of the vote in statewide general elections. ORS 249.008. (BM 65 will keep minor party candidates from the top-two general election ballot, eliminating their chance to obtain the 1% vote, a fact confirmed by Ballot Access News founder Richard Winger, who finds no minor party candidate advancing in any jungle or blanket style primary anywhere).

I have absolutely no financial ties to BM 65, pro or con, and I am not being paid for this post--I am opposed to BM 65 because it's poorly drafted. It will reduce meaningful citizen involvement in collective action and direct democracy. It was put on the ballot by big money interests which will get the candidates they "want" under BM 65.

BM 65 Makes Special Interests Even More Powerful in Picking Candidates

Now, why would Oregon's largest land speculators, industry lobbyists, and a smelter owner pay a lot of money to get BM 65 on the ballot? (I mean a lot-–about $405,000.00 to pay for signatures and related expenses so far this cycle and close to $1 million if you include the failed 2006 effort).

OR has no campaign contribution limits at all--none. OR votes by mail exclusively. The May primary ballots go out to voters in April. That means the money race for enough cash to make the top-two will start in the winter. The big funders will try to "anoint" their chosen top-two and then help "elect" the winner in the (even more) expensive November general election.

The backroom deals to get the major party “endorsements” which will appear on the primary ballot will be out of public view. This means selection and promotion of candidates that is even less transparent than presently.

BM 65 allows political punking and dirty tricks

News accounts from Washington State show that voter turnout did not increase under the new top-two system in place this year.

Turnout for the first phase of the top-two was about 45% of eligible voters. This is hardly an endorsement of the system in Washington, and not a model for Oregon.
Below-the-radar campaigns by ideologues with a core constituency of say 15-20% in the low turnout May election in Oregon can secure one of the top-two spots (Hello, David Duke, who twice made the top-two runoff in the Louisiana version of this top-two–once in the governor’s race, leading to bumperstickers: "Vote for the crook: This time it's important" and "Vote for the Lizard, Not the Wizard.;" and once for Senate He came close to the top-two again in 1999, in a special election for an open congressional seat and received 19 % of the vote, a very close third place.)

In a crowded field, the top-two can be the “winners” with as little as 18% of the vote. And expect political dirty tricks to make sure that the May ballot has lots of “candidates” who will split the votes. Anyone can re-register as a “Democrat,” or “Republican” only 70 days before the filing deadline, so expect a surge of these newly-minted candidates to try to split the opposing party’s vote.

Stifles citizen voices.

Independent voters engage in personal democracy, they want their votes to count. But actual political strength and the power to change history also come from the great gonate rights of teh the First Amendment--our freedoms of speech, assembly and association and to collectively petition the government.

A vote is an individual act, concerted action is what brought about Abolition, women's suffrage, trust busting, the social safety net, environmental protection, the end to the last tragic, pointless war. Abraham Lincoln won the presidency on a “minor” party ticket. The hell-raisers from the Populists and Progressives brought reform into the political mainstream through their candidates and platforms.

A robust democracy needs more voices, often brought to prominence through political campaigns. Killing minor parties and wiping out citizen-sponsored candidates (in Oregon candidates can now get on the ballot through petition or through assemblies of 1000 voters) is bad for Oregon.

In practice, the need for insurgent and competitive candidates cannot be known until after the traditional May primary. In Oregon, citizens (led by the Grange) had to draft a candidate for governor by petition in 1930 because the major party candidates were hand-picked by corporate interests and opposed rural power development and action to lift Oregon out of the depression. Julius Meier won by 54% of the total vote, more than the other candidates combined vote.

Too many drafting flaws to describe in detail.

The measure is poorly drafted. It fails to integrate dozens of current state election law statutes.

It deprives the existing parties of the right to "nominate" candidates at all, a federal First Amendment violation of rights of assembly which caused the State of Virgina to alter its compulsory open primary system after losing at the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit (the appeals level just below the US Supreme Court).

It does not harmonize with federal election law. In particular, by not allowing party nominations, it threatens the rights of parties to support their federal candidates because FEC rules allow coordinated financial support only by state parties in support of their “nominees.” BM 65 does not allow “nominees” of any party, but instead, the top-two runoff candidates are called "voter choice" nominees.

If you live in Oregon--Read BM 65 and understand it before you vote. If it needs "a fix" to make it work, then vote "NO." Voting for a hastily designed measure in the hopes it will get "fixed" is a bad idea. Do we want elected legislators to vote for any old thing and then promise to "fix" it somehow, sometime? As citizen legislators who vote of laws before us, we should hold ourselves to a high standard.

Norm! said...

Hi Linda:

. . . BM 65 will keep minor party candidates from the top-two general election ballot . . .

Not necessarily. It is conceiveable that in districts heavily favored toward one party, a minor party candidate could advance to the top-two general election ballot.

". . . It will reduce meaningful citizen involvement in collective action and direct democracy. . . . "

I don't see how democracy is served by cluttering the general election ballot with protest vote candidates who have no chance of winning. If anything, this measure increases the chances that a minor party candidate could receive votes in an open primary.

". . . The big funders will try to "anoint" their chosen top-two and then help "elect" the winner in the (even more) expensive November general election. . . ."

It's currently common for big funders to contribute to both Democrats and Republicans and big funders already annoint their favored candidates.

". . . The backroom deals to get the major party “endorsements” which will appear on the primary ballot will be out of public view. This means selection and promotion of candidates that is even less transparent than presently. . . "

Your criticism assumes that a major candidate is more likely to win sufficient votes to advance to the general election. If a major party candidate fails to win their party's backroom nomination, then they can run as minor candidate. If anything, this measure makes the process more transparent by showing voters who the party leadership actually favors (i.e. Merkley/Novick primary in which the Democratic party leadership seemed to heavily favor Merkley over Novick).

". . . News accounts from Washington State show that voter turnout did not increase under the new top-two system in place this year. . . ."

The WA system is relatively new and there was little time for minor party candidates to campaign after the court's ruling, so it's a little early for analysis -- especially since the more significant general election has yet to occur.

". . . In a crowded field, the top-two can be the “winners” with as little as 18% of the vote. And expect political dirty tricks to make sure that the May ballot has lots of “candidates” who will split the votes. Anyone can re-register as a “Democrat,” or “Republican” only 70 days before the filing deadline, so expect a surge of these newly-minted candidates to try to split the opposing party’s vote. . . ."

This is true too under current system such as the last primary in which Republicans re-registered as Democrats to influence the Democratic presidential primary. Worse, under the current system a candidate can win office on a crowded general election ballot with less than a majority while minor party candidates split the remaining vote (i.e. '92 Clinton-BushSr-Perot, '00 BushJr-Gore-Nader).

Under Top Two, major party voters cannot assume their candidate will advance to the run-off, so it seems less likely that party voters in a crowded election would risk their candidate losing just to split the vote.

" . . . A robust democracy needs more voices, often brought to prominence through political campaigns. Killing minor parties and wiping out citizen-sponsored candidates (in Oregon candidates can now get on the ballot through petition or through assemblies of 1000 voters) is bad for Oregon. . . ."

Top two actually encourages more voices and challenges the assumption that a Democrat or Republican are guaranteed a position on the general election ballot. In a heavily Red or Blue district, it is conceiveable that top two could result in a Republican vs. Libertarian run-off or Democrat vs. Green run-off giving minor parties major influence in the campaign and proven viability. Whereas, protest voting on a general election ballot rarely results in any significant influence other than splitting the vote.