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Initiative fails again: Only Oregon voters registered with a party can vote in the primaries

Oregon – Once more, the effort to let all voters in Oregon take part in party primaries has hit a snag. The group called All Oregon Votes, which was working on getting a change on the ballot about open primaries, said on Monday they’re stopping their work on getting signatures for Initiative Petition 26 because they don’t have enough resources. This change, if voters said yes, would have made it so every voter gets a primary ballot that lists all candidates, no matter which party the voter belongs to.

About 1.3 million Oregon voters can’t vote on the primaries

Right now, about 1.3 million Oregon voters can’t vote in the Democratic or Republican primaries if they’re not signed up with those parties. Most of these people, about 80%, don’t belong to any party but they’re the largest group of voters in Oregon. In a lot of cases, the real contest is in the primary, not the general election.

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This push for open primaries started back in 2020, and they tried again starting in September 2022. However, they weren’t happy with the way the attorney general’s office described the ballot measure. The description, or ballot title, is really important because it can influence how people understand the measure, and a lot of voters might not look into it more deeply. The group challenged the description in court, but the state Supreme Court said it was okay.

In April, the team put forward this particular plan. Michael Calcagno, who’s a dad with a job and joined the movement in 2022, shared his disappointment with the Capital Chronicle. He finds it really upsetting.

“It’s incredibly disheartening,” Calcagno said. “To silence 1.3 million legal eligible registered voters is absurd.”

Majority Oregon voters want open primaries, survey shows

A survey from last week by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, which doesn’t lean toward any political side, showed that 63% of people asked, including most Democrats and Republicans, think primaries should be open to all voters.

This pause in their efforts was announced with just three months to go until Oregon’s primary election, and a little more than four months left to gather enough signatures to get their proposal on the November ballot. They need around 160,000 valid signatures to make it happen, so they aimed for 200,000 to cover any that might not count. Calcagno mentioned that usually about 80% of the signatures end up being valid.

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Calcagno also pointed out that their group is mostly made up of regular folks, including a lot of retirees, and they don’t have the big money backers that could help pay for people to go out and collect signatures.

“No ballot measure can qualify without paid signature gathering,” Calcagno said. “Unless you’ve got a special interest group or a wealthy donor who’s willing to pay for signature gathering to happen, then you have to rely on volunteers.”

Open primaries initiatives failed in 2014 and 2008

The last time a measure for open primaries was on the ballot in Oregon was in 2014 with Measure 90. This measure proposed getting rid of the separate Democratic and Republican primaries and instead having a single nonpartisan primary where all voters could choose from all candidates. The two candidates with the most votes would then go on to the general election.

However, Oregon voters overwhelmingly rejected it, with 70% voting against. A similar attempt in 2008 also didn’t succeed. Despite these setbacks, Michael Calcagno and his team are determined to keep trying. They plan to give it another shot in two years.

“We are not stopping,” he said. “What’s wrong yesterday will be wrong tomorrow. We will talk to state lawmakers, political donors, philanthropic groups outside the state and see if we can’t move the needle.”

The campaign is encouraging people to talk to their state representatives to show their support for open primaries. They’re also asking people to follow their group on social media to stay updated.

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Oregon is one of nine states that still have closed primaries, meaning only registered party members can vote in their party’s primary. Calcagno finds hope in the recent changes in other states, like Alaska, which moved away from closed primaries in 2020, and Nevada, where voters supported open primaries in 2022. A final vote in Nevada is set for November to confirm this change.

“Nationally, the wind is at our backs,” Calcagno said.

Gideon Fairchild


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