How would Measure 90 change the mechanics of primary elections?
Under Measure 90, Oregon’s primary election would no longer be the nomination process for the major political parties. Oregon would no longer have Republican and Democratic primaries in which only those parties’ registered voters can vote to nominate each major party’s candidate for the general election. Primary ballots would list candidates from all parties for Governor, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, Attorney General, state Senator and state Representative. Also included would be any candidate who is not affiliated with a major party. Candidates for U.S. Congress and Senate would also be listed as would candidates for any partisan local offices. Any registered voter, regardless of their party affiliation or non-affiliation, would be able to vote.
Minor parties would no longer have to run their own conventions or other nomination process to select their candidates for the general election.
All candidates would be included on one primary ballot, regardless of their party affiliation or non-affiliation.
How would Measure 90 change the mechanics of general elections?
Under Measure 90 the top two vote recipients in an open primary would advance to the general election. These two candidates could be from different political parties, from the same party, or from no party at all.
In other words, the two major political parties would no longer be guaranteed spots on the November ballot and neither would minor party or non-affiliated candidates. Under Oregon’s current system, non-affiliated candidates can get on the general election ballot by holding a convention or gathering signatures on a nomination petition. Minor party candidates can get on the general election ballot by winning support at a convention or via another nomination process. Under Measure 90, all candidates would appear on one primary ballot and only the top two vote recipients would move onto the general election ballot.
A drafting problem, however, seems likely to require a legislative fix if Measure 90 is adopted. Current law that was not amended by Measure 90, says that if a candidate in a nonpartisan primary receives more than 50% of the vote then that person is elected. For readers familiar with Portland politics this frequently occurs when incumbent members of the City Council run for re-election and are not advanced to the November ballot because they get more than half of the votes cast, instead they are elected during the May primary. Measure 90 applied current law on nonpartisan elections too broadly, raising the possibility of not having a general election even though its intent seems clear that the new open primary always advances two candidates for partisan offices to the general election. Some will find this a fatal flaw while others will think that the top-two intent of the law is evident, but that if clarity is needed then a legislative fix will be readily obtained.
How would Measure 90 change identifying information on primary and general election ballots?
Under Measure 90, ballots would continue to list the political party that each candidate opted to align with when he or she registered to vote. A non-affiliated candidate could decide to have no listing on the ballot or be listed as “not a member of a party”. The ballot would also include a statement that a party registration listing does not imply endorsement by that political party.
In addition to listing a candidate’s party registration, ballots would list any major or minor political party endorsements that have been accepted by the candidate. The endorsement process would be subject to approval by the Secretary of State, a process similar to how the current minor party nomination and fusion voting procedures are regulated. Under Measure 90 these endorsements, however, are not nominations.
Ballot information differences between Measure 90 and California and Washington
California and Washington have similar open primary/top-two general election systems, but ballots in those states do not list party endorsements next to a candidate’s name on the ballot.
In California a candidate’s party registration or non-affiliated status is listed on the ballot. In Washington the voter registration process does not involve identifying alignment with any political party so candidates are instead offered the option of listing a party preference. While most candidates list the name of one of the recognized political parties, a handful of candidates have used unconventional party preferences (e.g. “Independent Dem. Party” or “Lower Taxes Party”). This could not occur under Measure 90.
That fact that Measure 90, unlike the primary systems in California and Washington, includes party endorsements on the ballot may seem like a minor difference. But this Measure 90 provision would help protect the integrity of political parties. The endorsement procedures that parties would use if Measure 90 is adopted would be subject to Secretary of State approval and would have to be consistent with state law about ensuring fair representation of party members. The party endorsement listings would also provide more information to voters than is seen in the California and Washington primary systems. Indeed, Oregon voters could see candidates endorsed by more than one political party due to our fusion voting option.
Measure 90 and fusion voting
Fusion voting, which was adopted by the Oregon Legislature in 2009, provides for candidates to accept nominations from more than one political party. Current law, then, allows a candidate to accept more than one nomination and a candidate’s name on the ballot can list nominations by up to three political parties. Fusion voting provides more information to voters and allows minor political parties to advocate for their issues without running candidates that could become spoilers during the general election.
Fusion voting would continue under Measure 90, but the process shifts from being a cross-nomination to being a cross-endorsement. Subject to candidate approval, cross endorsements could also be listed on both primary and general election ballots depending on the timing of a party’s endorsement process. An additional minor party endorsement on the November ballot in same-party elections could provide particularly helpful information to voters. For example, if two candidates list a Democratic Party endorsement but one is also endorsed by the Pacific Green Party, that additional endorsement could be a helpful distinguishing factor. Similarly, if two candidates list a Republican Party endorsement but one also has a Libertarian party endorsement, a voter might use that information to differentiate between the two candidates.