Non-Affiliated Voters Outnumber Democrats in Oregon. Let Them Participate in Primaries. | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Non-Affiliated Voters Outnumber Democrats in Oregon. Let Them Participate in Primaries.

Between our state's automatic voter registration and an electorate that's tired of political extremes, this trend of seeing non-affiliated voters exceed party supporters is only going to grow.

Paying attention to the extreme partisanship in Washington, D.C., might lead one to pull their hair out. This past week – amid the effort, involving some 15 rounds of voting – to name a Speaker of the House, also happened to be the anniversary of the Capitol breach of Jan. 6, 2020. One might imagine that to be a day when some of the very same lawmakers whose lives were threatened by the breach of the Capitol would come together to commemorate the day and denounce that type of violence. But nope; on the steps of the Capitol that day was one lone Republican, and the rest of the commemorators were Democrats. Even on this we remain completely divided.

And, no surprise, those who held back their votes in the first rounds of voting for Speaker of the House were, largely, those who disputed the results of the 2020 presidential election.

This type of party politicking is tiresome. Some of this, at least in states like ours, can be attributed to the extreme party politicking that happens during primary elections. When the two major parties keep their primaries closed, like they do in Oregon, it invites those at the extreme ends of the political spectrum to run on positions that might excite their respective bases. Then in the general election, this leaves those voters not registered with a party or those who weren't a member of the party nominating candidates, left voting for the candidates whose policy positions are the furthest from the center. This is not where a majority of voters tend to exist.

It's for this reason that voters should support the open primary Initiative Petition that just received its draft ballot title last month. If passed, Initiative Petition 2024-016, proposed for the November 2024 general election, would amend the state Constitution, requiring "primary election process allowing all candidates, voters, to participate regardless of party affiliation/non-affiliation." The measure would impact all races in the Oregon legislature, as well as statewide races and federal Congressional races – just not those for U.S. president and vice president.

Here in Deschutes County, voters just approved a similar measure that made future county commission races non-partisan. Some 61.24% of voters in Deschutes County approved the measure in November.

Like that effort, IP 2024-016 would require a certain number of voters — 149,360 in this case — to sign the petition to put it on the ballot. But before that, Oregonians are encouraged to share their thoughts about the proposed measure by submitting a public comment on or before Jan. 17.

This is an important notion to consider. According to the most recent voter registration counts from the Oregon Secretary of State's Elections Division, non-affiliated voters – those who are not registered with any particular party – outnumber the counts for Democrats as well as Republicans. Some 1,036,230 people were registered as non-affiliated voters in Oregon as of December, with another 1,017,231 registered as Democrats and 735,354 registered as Republicans. Looking at these numbers, it should be clear that it is simply not fair nor equitable to have the two major parties determining who can or can't be on a general election ballot. Sure, third-party candidates can file and run in the general election and skip the primary, as gubernatorial candidate Betsy Johnson did, but that leaves viable candidates like Johnson out of a lot of the conversation during the many long months of primary campaigning.

Between our state's automatic voter registration and an electorate that's tired of political extremes on both the left and right, this trend of seeing non-affiliated voters exceed the number of party supporters is only going to grow.

Those who want to see a more measured approach to Oregon politics should weigh in with a public comment now through Jan.17, and should sign the petition when approached by signature-gatherers. And if IP 2024-016 makes it on the November 2024 ballot, voters should support it then, too.

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