In Our View: Top-Two It, Oregon

Beaver State's voters urged to follow in Washington's footsteps with primaries



One of the traits of human nature is that power begets a desire to maintain that power. Therefore, it is no surprise that the two major political parties are fighting against efforts to bring a top-two primary format to elections in Oregon.

Our neighbors to the south, you see, will be considering the adoption of a top-two primary when they go to the polls in November. We’ve been through this in Washington, opting for a top-two system in 2008, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state’s blanket primary in 2000. As usual, Washington is a step ahead of Oregon when it comes to being innovative, so allow us to offer the voice of experience for our Northwest brethren: Jump right in. With both feet. Embrace the top-two primary and don’t look back. You won’t be sorry.

In a nonpartisan top-two system, all the candidates for a particular office appear on the primary ballot, and the two who receive the most votes advance to the general election. It’s simple; it’s fair; it’s democratic. This might result in two candidates who prefer the Republican Party facing off in the general election; it might result in two Democrats; it might result in two members of the Panda Friend Party — if such a thing existed. But regardless of party affiliation, it will mean that the two best candidates, the two who have most effectively connected with voters, will advance to the general election.

In short, no longer will only Republican voters select the Republican candidate for Oregon’s general election; same for Democrats. And that, predictably, has raised the hackles of party leaders.

Oregon Democratic Chair Frank Dixon, for example, called the proposal “complex, confusing, a magnet for political mischief.” Cries of complexity and confusion are easily disputed, considering we just used one paragraph to effectively explain all you need to know about the top-two primary. As for Dixon’s other assertion, well, we’ll reserve comment about the major parties’ ability to sniff out mischief. The Oregon Republican Party released a statement saying, “To deny voters a combined voice in selecting their nominee is fundamentally un-American.”

Now, it might be said that if Democrats and Republicans agree in opposition to something, it might not be worth supporting. In reality, however, the situation points out how the parties have hijacked the political system. There is nothing un-American about people voting for the candidate they like, regardless of party labels. There is nothing mischievous about the two candidates who get the most votes advancing to the general election.

Washington figured this out several years ago. Locally, in 2012 Brandon Vick won a legislative seat by defeating a fellow Republican in the general election. Statewide, this year two Republicans have advanced in the race for Washington’s 4th Congressional District. In districts that lean heavily toward one party or the other — such as the staunchly conservative 4th District — a top-two primary is particularly effective at providing voters with a choice, and that works to put power in the hands of the people.

In Oregon — and in most other states — parties have the power in the election system, and they are reluctant to relinquish it. But as businessman Brett Wilcox, a supporter of Oregon’s Measure 90, told The Oregonian: “There’s just way too much partisanship in politics now. People are just fed up with the political process.” Anecdotal evidence suggests that many, many voters across the country would agree with that analysis. Even if the powers that be will take issue with it.