Oregon has a new political party, and the state's top elections official is getting an earful from one of his now-familiar foes about it.
In January, the Independent Party qualified as a minor party by collecting nearly 19,000 signatures of support, joining the Constitution, Pacific Green, Libertarian and Working Families parties as challengers to the hegemony of the big two—the Republicans and the Democrats.
(The difference between "minor" and "major" parties is that the latter hold state-funded primaries.)
For Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, a Democrat who oversees elections, one upshot of the newly minted Independent Party is that he again faces the withering scrutiny of Dan Meek, utility lawyer, campaign finance advocate and law partner of Linda Williams, the official organizer of Oregon's Independent Party (indparty.com).
Meek is already suing Bradbury separately over his office's failure to enforce the terms of Ballot Measure 47, a Meek-backed campaign finance reform initiative that Oregon voters passed in November.
And now Meek says Bradbury should let the Independent Party appear on Oregon's voter registration forms, like the other minor parties. He charges that Bradbury is trying to stop people from leaving the Democratic Party to become Independents.
"The government should not be spending money to promote only some parties," says Meek, a member of the Independent Party. "That's discriminatory."
Bradbury's spokeswoman, Mary Conley, says the state won't print new registration cards until the 36 counties use up the supply of existing cards. To throw away those already printed and make new ones, Conley says, would cost $40,000.
"We don't want to waste taxpayer dollars," Conley says. "If voters want to join the Independent Party, they can write in their preference in the 'other' line."
Meek says Bradbury is simply delaying. He points out that easily changed online voter registration forms also don't acknowledge the existence of the Independent Party, although it's been more than five weeks since elections officials certified the 18,908 signatures the party needed to qualify.
Conley says the hold-up with the computerized form is the translation of that page into Spanish. She denies Meek's suggestion that Bradbury is trying to stop Democratic defections.
"Bill is very interested in getting more people to vote," Conley says. "He doesn't care what party they belong to."