Open Primary/Top Two - Measure 90 In-depth

Common Cause has taken no position on Measure 90, the open primary/top two general election proposal on the November 4, 2014 ballot. Instead, we’ve asked Janice Thompson, former Common Cause Oregon executive director, to provide impartial analysis to help voters better understand the measure. 

Measure 90 would create an open primary where the top two vote-getters, regardless of political party, would advance to the general election. The official ballot title is: Changes general election nomination processes; provides for single primary ballot listing candidates; top two advance.

These educational articles address various aspects of an open primary/top two system. Some of the articles include references to California and Washington, the two states with primary systems closest to what is proposed in Measure 90. To put this information into perspective, background is provided on political similarities and differences between these two states and Oregon. The open primary/top two general election system has been in place in Washington since 2008 and in California since 2012. Since it can take time for political players to sort out the nuances of operating under new system and many variables affect the implantation of any political reform, definitive conclusions cannot always be drawn from our neighboring states. 

Definitive predictions about outcomes linked to Measure 90 are not really possible and are not attempted in these articles. Definitive changes due to Measure 90, if adopted, may also not be immediate.  The intent of these articles, however, is to provide information and questions to think through as you make your voting decisions on this proposal.

Oregon Primary Election Basics
Our first article explains why there are primary elections and the origins of this approach. It also provides an overview of Oregon’s current primary system and changing voter registration patterns.

Process Changes and Fusion Voting
This article examines how the mechanics of primary and general elections would change under Measure 90, including how ballots would look different. Oregon’s fusion voting system is also discussed in this article because it is a notable difference from California and Washington, the two states with primary systems most similar to what is proposed in Measure 90.

Major and Minor Political Parties
Both major political parties, Democratic and Republican, oppose Measure 90. Most minor parties also oppose or are silent on Measure 90. The Working Families Party, however, supports Measure 90. This article examines potential effects of Measure 90 on political parties. Spoilers, splitters, and ringers are also discussed.

Polarization and Political Moderates
Polarization (when elected officials take extreme positions) is frequently blamed for gridlock in Congress and state legislatures due to declining numbers of moderates who can work across the aisle. Partisan polarization in Oregon is on par with that of the U.S. Congress. This article focuses on political science research addressing whether or not changes in primary systems can reduce polarization. Several past Oregon primary elections are discussed to illustrate how political dynamics might change under Measure 90.

Voter Turnout
In Oregon’s current system almost 670,000 voters with minor or no party affiliations cannot vote in partisan primary elections. Under Measure 90 there would be one primary ballot listing all candidates with voting open to all registrants. Would this boost primary election turnout? Are there potential effects on general election turnout? 

Voter Choice in Primary vs. General Elections
Differences between primary and general election voters are examined in this article. These differences contribute to the question of whether it is more important to provide more voter choices on the primary ballot or during the general election? 

Campaign Spending
Some have criticized Measure 90 because it might increase campaign spending. But is the possibility of more money spent in primaries open to all voters a bad or a good thing? Different scenarios for how Measure 90 might change general election campaign spending are also examined.

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