Open Primary Measure for 2024 Gets Ballot Title From DOJ

The idea is not new, but the rise of the nonaffiliated voter may give it better odds than before.

An initiative for 2024 aimed at opening Oregon’s partisan primaries to all voters passed a key hurdle today when the Oregon Department of Justice issued a draft ballot title.

Here’s that title: “Requires primary election process allowing all candidates, voters, to participate regardless of party affiliation/non-affiliation.”

The measure would apply to legislative, statewide and congressional races, but not those for president and vice president.

Pretty dry stuff, but a matter of importance to the large swath of voters who are either excluded from Oregon’s two major-party primaries or are dissatisfied with the results of those primaries.

Backers of the initiative, currently numbered Initiative Petition 16, must gather 149,360 valid signatures to qualify it for the November 2024 ballot. The measure would amend the Oregon Constitution.

Michael Calcagno, president of Oregon Open Primaries and one of three chief petitioners for IP 16, says he thinks Oregon voters are ready for a change. He and other backers of open primaries believe they drive greater participation among voters as well as candidates and moderate party extremes.

“We have a dysfunctional, two-party system in which the establishment and powers that be get to settle our elections for the rest of us,” Calcagno says.

As evidence of how the current system is failing, Calcagno points to the results from the May primaries for governor: Less than 13% of all registered Oregon voters cast a primary ballot for the two major-party nominees, Democrat Tina Kotek and Republican Christine Drazan. (Kotek got 275,000 votes in the primary; Drazan, 85,000. There are 2.9 million registered voters, of whom the largest group is unaffiliated with any party.)

Oregon is one of nine states that conducts closed primaries, according the National Conference of State Legislatures. Other states use a variety of models, with California and Washington using a “top two” model, in which the two highest vote-getters in the primary advance, regardless of party.

The last time Oregon voters weighed in on open primaries, Measure 90 in 2014, they rejected the idea 68% to 32%. Calcagno and his allies think voters are far less enamored of the status quo now.

The next step for IP 16 is a public comment period, which closes Jan. 17.

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