Editorial: Oregonians’ solution to closed primaries
The fact that Democratic Sen. Betsy Johnson would rather run for governor as an unaffiliated candidate than seek her own party’s nomination should make one thing clear: Our closed primary system, which locks out more than a third of Oregon voters who don’t identify as Democrats or Republicans, is helping keep moderate candidates out of statewide office.
Party loyalists might not see that as a problem. Keeping primaries limited to those who intentionally register as a Democrat or Republican rewards those who best embody the party’s platform that drew voters in the first place. But specific candidates aside – it’s far too soon to evaluate Johnson’s candidacy – Oregonians who want more on the November ballot than hard left or hard right nominees, know that the need for change couldn’t be clearer. While Washington, California and other states have adopted primary systems that promote the top vote-getters regardless of party, Oregon remains dedicated to a relic.
It’s not just that the most partisan candidates often win the nomination, bouncing competitors with broader overall appeal from the ballot, as the past two Democratic secretary of state races reflect. Our closed primaries also highlight the state’s hypocrisy. Oregon rightly boasts of its “motor voter” program, which automatically registers driver’s license applicants as nonaffiliated voters if they are eligible but not yet registered to vote. But unless these voters proactively change their registration, they are unable to participate in the taxpayer-funded primaries that determine the two major candidates for governor and other statewide offices. All told, Oregon’s 991,000 nonaffiliated voters — more than the 730,000 registered Republicans and nearly as many as the state’s 1 million registered Democrats — don’t get a say in statewide representation until November.
The state’s Democratic and Republican parties could voluntarily open their primaries to nonaffiliated voters. In fact, the state GOP did so in 2012, and Oregon Democrats considered – but ultimately rejected – the idea in 2020. However, neither party has indicated interest so far for 2022. They have until mid-February to notify the Oregon secretary of state’s office if they intend to.