Measure 90 allows top two primary election candidates to advance

What should Oregon voters make of the fact that Democratic and Republican leaders have now both come out in opposition to Measure 90’s proposed top-two primary election system?

Look in the U.S. Constitution and you will find no mention of political parties. But in the 225 years following the Constitution’s implementation, various parties have risen and fallen. At their best, they permit like-minded citizens to come together and achieve much more than they might as individuals. At their worst, they suffocate efforts to choose wise leaders and instead stick us with candidates who have been screened to reflect the beliefs of each party’s most ardent activists and paymasters.

In Oregon, where party registration heavily skews Republicans in many rural areas and Democrats closer to Portland, the selection of elected officials effectively takes place on primary election day – or long before, when party central committees and key players decide who to support. In Oregon and many other states, this too often means that legislatures and county courthouses are led by individuals whose views and alliances don’t truly reflect the American mainstream.

The new top-two primary system adopted by Washington and California has functioned smoothly. As long-term incumbents retire or are defeated, this system means that candidates and officeholders will endeavor to appeal to a majority of all citizens, not merely a majority of their own parties’ primary-election voters.

The top-two system makes the primary into a fair horse race between all the candidates seeking an office. Though candidates can identify their party affiliation on the ballot, voters are not required to vote a straight party ticket.

What results is selection of the two most favored candidates. At present, these are most likely to be a Republican and a Democrat. But other configurations are possible, as in Pacific County where a Democrat and an Independent will vie for the county prosecutor’s office in November’s general election. In previous decades, the general election would have been meaningless after the Democratic incumbent won a rubber-stamp primary.

All this pleases the political parties not at all, but should be highly gratifying to ordinary citizens. While the two main parties could narrowly control selection of which choices to present to voters, this system gives every candidate of every political stripe an equal head-to-head opportunity to win a place on the November ballot. This is likely to influence which candidates the major parties groom and assist, as they will know up front that their candidate may also need to appeal to those of differing political persuasions.

In Oregon, political parties desperately want to kill the top-two system. Party leaders are frantic to preserve their power. They argue that two candidates of the same party may advance to the general, depriving voters of a full spectrum of choices when it really matters.

But this is baloney. Real choice consists of voting for whomever you like, without the parties avidly pulling the strings.

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