Oregon’s Measure 65: Pacific Greens reply

In a message at Independent Political Report I reported on a statement from a Constitution Party supporter’s website. That statement said, in essence, that Oregon’s Measure 65, if passed, would be the death of third parties in that state.

In the article I linked to several pieces by Richard Winger of Ballot Access News on the topic, and to other information I was able to pick up via Google. I noted that I had sent a message to officers of that state’s Constitution, Libertarian and Green parties. Yesterday I got two responses from members of the Pacific Green Party on Measure 65, and they are available by clicking the “Read more–>” link

65 Argument in Opposition


Ballot Measure 65 will create what is known as a Top Two election system in Oregon. It is not an open primary. Under Top Two, only two candidates for each race will appear on the ballot in November. Top Two is used only in Louisiana and, recently, in Washington.

Ballot Measure 65 will drastically change Oregon’s primary election. All candidates from all parties will compete in the same election in one big free-for-all. There will be no majority vote requirement. Candidates will advance to the general election with the support of a tiny percentage of voters. That’s undemocratic. And unfair.


Campaigns are already too long and too expensive. BM 65 will make them even longer and more expensive. Candidates will have to start running earlier and will have to raise and spend more money to reach voters from other parties.


Voters should have more than two choices on Election Day. Freedom of choice is the heart of democracy. Why should our choices be restricted?


Based on research conducted by the nation’s leading expert on ballot laws, third party candidates will be virtually eliminated from the November election.


No one in Oregon is ever denied the right to participate in the primary. Any eligible Oregonian can register with a political party 21 days prior to the election.

“Top Two severely restricts voters’ choices
for the November election.”
Richard Winger, Editor, Ballot Access News

“Top Two is unfair and undemocratic.”
Blair Bobier, Programs Director, Civics Education League

“‘Top Two’ deprives the voters
of a meaningful debate and choice.”
Luke Esser, Chair, Republican Party of Washington
OPB Radio, 8/20/08

“‘Top Two’ limits our democracy
rather than expanding it.”
Dwight Pelz, Chair, Democratic Party of Washington
OPB Radio, 8/20/08

Seth Wolley’s statement

I’m Seth Woolley, Secretary and Elections Administrator of the Pacific Green Party of Oregon and its nominee for Secretary of State. The Pacific Green Party of Oregon is not a “left” or “right” party, although it’s often called “left”. Greens are instead for peace and nonviolence, decentralization and local control, social and economic justice, and environmental sustainability.

It’s important to know what the five goals of the proposed top-two, blanket (not open) primary are (from the text of Measure 65) and why they aren’t satisfied by the measure. The last goal is even mathematically false.

1. All Oregon voters should have the full and equal ability, at every election, to choose those whom they believe are best suited to govern them.

Section 6 of the measure changes the requirements for access to the “blanket partisan” (called “voter choice”) primary to match non-partisan primaries.

Thus “equal” ability would be true — but not “full” by any measure.

By moving more deadlines for candidate nominations for third parties and independents to the primary date, it becomes more difficult for third parties and independents to recruit candidates who’ve been disenchanted by the major parties after seeing how candidates have changed their rhetoric after the primary — and that’s for parties that falsely play to another party’s base. For major parties that don’t play to a third party base (or to an independent with a special interest), the candidates providing the increased range of debate are essentially shut out of the general election and relegated to the primaries — those candidates who propose new ideas almost always start out unable to win majority support against a field of establishment candidates.

As an aside, the ballot measure process has been the preferred location in Oregon for new ideas — in fact, Green Parties in states without a ballot measure direct democratic system tend to be, all other things being equal, much stronger than in Oregon, although with the increased use of pay-per-hour by big-business-backed conservatives has made it nearly impossible to gather signatures for progressive ideas without money due to growing voter disenchantment with the corruption of the process spurred on by the Oregon Supreme Court’s equating money with speech. Only Campaign Finance Reform to implement Measure 47 will solve this problem, as well as many others.

Secondly, the only reason the major parties in the past have played to another party’s base (for example, sometimes Democrats try to take Green votes with empty greenwashing rhetoric) is to secure their own party’s nomination — which wouldn’t even happen in the open public with this proposal — it would happen instead at their private endorsement meetings. It thus further limits the debate of non-top-two candidates to the primary election, where less voter turnout is expected. Yes, they would have the same prima facie ability, but as it turns out, it won’t be the same “real” ability. Later I will show that in fact, they will have even less ability due to the mathematical non-monotonicity of the top-two, plurality, single-delayed-runoff, blanket-primary proposal.

2. Competitive and open elections that encourage thoughtful debate and maximize participation are healthy for democracy and strengthen citizens’ trust in their government.

The measure does open some elections (but not all) to independent candidates better; however it raises requirements for third parties. An additional signature drive or filing fee will be necessary for third party candidates above and beyond the existing signature drives, registration drives, and/or vote results that are already required for third (and major) parties.

It also raises requirements for major parties, to actually hold separate elections where they do “voter choice” endorsements. Such endorsements would typically be done through an extra level of representatives (people who attend their conventions, particularly at the state level). The type of choices that would get the nod of each party would then be more of those of the “apparatchik” and not the party membership. Otherwise, the state parties would have to seek more funds for a third level of plenary elections, increasing the cost of elections.

3. Citizens should be able to register and affiliate with any legal political party, or none at all, according to their beliefs and without any coercion or diminishment of their rights as voters.

Quite simply, this problem could be fixed directly by repealing the Kate-Brown-championed HB2615(2005) that changed the requirements for independents to be independents-only without a corresponding reduction in the signature requirements, or with a wholesale reduction in the signature requirements to be drastically fewer to be more, say, fewer than those needed to create a party in the first place. Nader is creating a “Peace” Party solely to get on the Presidential ballot, due to the huge difference in the level of difficulty. Secondly, to complete the repair, we would need to have the state pay a proportional subsidy to each third party or independent based on their registration base to fund or pay back the costs for third party primaries or party or independent elector conventions.

Lastly, the “voter choice” elections it proposes doesn’t even apply to all elections, for example, for President, so the “any” qualifier is simply false.

If the backers of this measure truly believed in this statement, they’d support Instant-Runoff Voting and Proportional Representation. If the Green Party registers ten percent of the population, we can’t expect nine seats in the legislature because we don’t have true Proportional Representation — THAT would be cleaning up a diminishment of our rights as voters to be properly represented in the legislature. The top-two proposal certainly does not.

4. Political parties should be able to endorse and support any qualified candidate, or none at all, according to the beliefs and choices of their members and without any compulsion or diminishment of their rights through operations of the law.

This measure would equalize the ability of parties to endorse candidates by removing the ability of parties to use the primary as a form of subsidized publicity for their candidates, currently unavailable to minor parties and independent candidates, as I’ve mentioned. Moreover, the measure actually implements fusion voting to the extent possible by allowing each endorsing party to endorse a candidate and have it listed. Of course, we’re already able to do such endorsing as it is, as there won’t be any partisan nominations at the general election, nor the primary election and form SEL430 and the voter pamphlet have dedicated space and subforms for many-to-one endorsement lists. Also, in section 5.1, it leaves open the possibility of charter-rule top-N partisan elections to remain consistent with ORS 254.065, which mandates plurality vote (requiring that the single highest or N-highest are elected), despite Article II Section 16 of the Oregon Constitution which specifically allows Proportional Representation and Preference Voting such as IRV. If one’s going to modify statutes and the election process so drastically, we should fix the law to allow home rule charters to override plurality or simply repeal it altogether and replace it with IRV (and additionally Proportional Representation to really protect minority rights).

5. A primary election process that advances the two candidates receiving the most votes to the general election ballot, and that allows every qualified voter to vote on which candidate to advance, helps to ensure the election of officials supported by a majority of the electorate, thereby promoting citizen confidence in their government.


This measure does not ensure a majority of the electorate. There is simply no guarantee that all candidates in the primary who are the “top two” are approvable by all the electorate. For example, I would not approve of Kate Brown or Rick Dancer if I were not nominated to the general election as a “top two” candidate. It thus does exactly the opposite: it LIMITS choices available for the general election that actually decides who is to be elected.

The Math of Measure 65:

Mathematical qualities of a two-round plurality vote don’t improve upon the spoiler problem at all and leads to an exacerbated non-monotonic behavior (rank improvement leading to a failed election) that’s the number of candidates minus two times higher than what could happen with IRV. A converse failure of the monotonicity criteria is actually the fundamental problem with plurality voting that leads to the spoiler issue — e.g. ranking Neville over Novick leads to the election of Merkeley.

Top two is, in mathematical terms, a degenerate form of Instant-Runoff Voting, except it doesn’t have the main benefits that IRV provides in the real world — instant counting, spoiler elimination, and majority approval.

First, it isn’t “instant” — costing taxpayers more money than needed.

Second, you’ll hear claims that “top two” will solve the spoiler problem. That’s demonstrably false. The “spoiler” is a term used only for candidates that are the “third or more” major-media-considered-electable candidates because plurality really only works when there’s a choice between two options (identical to the IRV winner, the Condercet winner, the approval winner, the borda winner, the range winner).

Consider an election in inner SE Portland where there’s no Republican or a weak one, a major-party Democrat, and a Green candidate (as in the case of District 42 and the Green Party’s Chris Extine) — the election is essentially between the Green and the Democrat — a Republican entering the race would technically be the spoiler. Furthermore, to avoid such a situation, all the Democrats would have to do is run a second nearly identical candidate. All of a sudden, the Greens are called the spoiler between the two “legitimate” Democrats. Ignore the fact that at least one of the Dems is going to be promoted — the problem is still there — perhaps the other Dem was really “better”.

Then consider a contested election between two major parties: the third candidate in the primary is still a spoiler — if they pull enough votes to trip one of the candidates from being in the top two, the election will likely be between two extreme candidates, neither of which is guaranteed the support of the majority.

Third, in the case of only one candidate (or option), the measure (similar in behavior to non-partisan races), calls off the election and doesn’t even ask us for approval. In that case, there is no “majority vote” — there’s no opportunity even to “write-in” anything else to support the candidate’s not receiving a majority of the votes. No vetting would be allowed. If the criteria of election was simply that a majority of the voters had to approve them to be elected, the election would be thrown out as not electing anybody and we’d simply hold a runoff with new candidates until somebody was elected.

With IRV, a static election majority threshold automatically supports an implicit none-of-the-above election. The top-two solution is a ruse that moves the spoiler problem into a more cluttered and lower turnout election where the spoiler problems, in fact, are magnified. In theory, the general election will be devoid of spoilers, however, the spoiler problem doesn’t, in fact, go away, because those who didn’t like either nominated candidate will be “spoiling” their vote by either refusing to vote or voting a write-in (thus unable to express their real preference). It again forces people into casting a vote for the lesser of two evils, creating a false mandate. In IRV with a static-threshold or a dynamic threshold (threshold recomputed after each round to eliminate ballot spoilage) with “none of the below” ranking, they would be able to express both preferences at the same time. In Louisiana, candidates like David Duke end up winning elections because voters hated the “crook” more than the “klan”, though Duke only got into the general election with only a small fraction of support (1/3 or less — in a primary too).

Combining the theory with the empirical reality (which Blair has addressed), it’s clear that Measure 65 is a poor and often non-solution for the problems it purports to solve and at the same time hurts diversity of viewpoints and fails to decrease election anomalies compared to either straight plurality or IRV, all in the name of bipartisanism.

Mon Aug 18 07:55:21 2008

From an e-mail by Dan Meeks

Here is an expanded version of my Voters’ Pamphlet statement:

Measure 65 will destroy minor parties in Oregon, reduce voter choices, confuse the ballots, encourage dirty politicking, and not elect moderate candidates anyway.

Today, Oregon’s six minor parties can provide good alternatives to the Democratic and Republican candidates in the November general election. Measure 65 will stop this.

Fewer choices. Measure 65 will abolish the Pacific Green, Constitution, Working Families, and Peace parties by removing their legal basis to exist (getting 1% of the vote in a statewide general election). Without that, they would each need to maintain a membership of about 10,256 registered voters (1/2 of 1% of all registered voters)–which none of them has. Yes, the 2009 Legislature could potentially “fix” this problem, but why should these minor parties need to rely on the major parties in the Legislature to ensure their existence, and why should we expect the major parties to help them?

Measure 65 is also intended by its sponsors to remove all minor party and citizen-sponsored candidates from the general election ballot, including those supported by tens of thousands of signatures, although the language of the measure actually does not remove the minor party and “non-affiliated” routes to the general election ballot. This will have to be litigated.

More Dirty Tricks. Measure 65 will allow effective ballot sabotage and party identity theft.

Under Measure 65, anyone can register as, say, a “Republican” up to and including the 70th day before the primary election and immediately file to run for public office, with “Registered: Republican” next to his name on the ballot, whether or not anyone in the Republican Party knows him (he may be a Nazi, Communist, convicted child molester, etc.). This can happen to any party, under Measure 65.

Each party will try to reduce the resulting voter confusion by “endorsing” a candidate in each race, since Measure 65 also allows such party endorsements to appear on the ballot next to each candidate’s name. This means Measure 65 will replace the major party primaries with backroom “endorsement” deals.

It will also force minor parties to “endorse” candidates they do not agree with, just to oppose the strangers on the ballot who suddenly claim to be “their” candidates. Minor parties typically do not have candidates for every partisan office. For example, they rarely nominate more than a few candidates for the 75 seats in the Oregon Legislature that are up for election every 2 years. But Measure 65 allows anyone to walk into a county elections office, register as a member of a minor party, and file to be identified on the ballot as “Registered: Name of Minor Party.” This will force the minor parties to endorse major party candidates in races where the minor party does not have its own candidate, even if none of the major party candidates agrees with the minor party on the issues.

Primary elections could become a game of “ringers,” with political consultants recruiting phony candidates just to split the votes of the other parties. Republican consultants could recruit people to register and file as “Democratic” candidates, thereby splitting the Democratic vote and allowing two Republican candidates to win the “top two” primary and proceed to the general election, alone. Democrats could recruit phony “Republicans.” Both of them could recruit phony “Independents” and phony “Libertarians,” etc. Every party in every primary election can be sabotaged this way, under Measure 65.

Expect a confusing ballot, with a dozen or more candidates for each major office who are “Registered” and/or “Endorsed” by the surviving parties.

Not Elect Moderate Candidates. Further, the stated purpose of Measure 65 is to have a primary system that advances more “moderate” candidates to the general election, instead of having a rabid conservative as the Republican nominee and a flaming liberal as the Democratic nominee. Personally, I cannot think of any flaming liberals who have won nomination to statewide office in Oregon since . . . Wayne Morse in 1974. But in the only place where the Measure 65 system has actually operated, Louisiana, it has hardly advanced moderates to the general election. I sincerely doubt that avowed racist and neo_Nazi David Duke could have won any party primary in Oregon, but he did advance to the statewide Louisiana general election, twice, under the “top two” primary there. It seems that such a primary tends to elect radicals, because the moderate vote is split among several moderate candidates for each office. The organization FairVote states:

A Republican state legislator, Duke ran a strong second in the 1990 U.S. Senate election and gained a spot in the runoff election in the governor’s race in 1991. In that 1991 runoff, he faced Edwin Edwards, a former governor with a history of suspected corruption. Indicating the polarized nature of the choice between Duke and Edwards, a popular bumper sticker in favor of Edwards was: “Vote the Crook: It’s Important.”

In the 1995 governor’s race, sixteen candidates ran in the opening round, including four major candidates who ultimately won at least 18% of the vote. The two most ideologically extreme major candidates were Mike Foster, a conservative Republican who earned Pat Buchanan’s endorsement and inherited much of David Duke’s constituency, and Cleo Fields. a leading liberal Democrat in the Congressional Black Caucus. They advanced to the runoff election with a combined vote of only 45% of votes casts, with the more centrist vote split among other candidates. Foster ultimately was elected in the runoff election.

A Louisiana-style nonpartisan primary easily can produce these kind of results because in a large field of candidates, the top two vote-getters can have relatively few votes. In a multi-candidate field, this rule tends to favor non-moderate candidates with the strongest core support that can be narrow rather than broad

For more reading on this subject, see:





Dan Meek
10949 S.W. 4th Ave
Portland, OR 97219
503-293-9021 phone
503-293-9099 fax

Green Party Watch News Network

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One Comment

  1. A woman who calls herself “Lindapendent” wrote a reply to the first message at Independent Political Report. I am copying it here as I think it may be of interest to some of us.

    I’m an attorney with a lot of election law experience and I’m personally committed to direct democracy. I’ve worked on and drafted statewide ballot measures, Public Utility District formation petitions, recall and referral petitions and local initiative drafting for 30 years.

    I was the sponsor of the petition drive to form the Independent Party of Oregon, the IPO has taken no position on the so-called “open primary,” Ballot Measure 65 on the November ballot in Oregon, because of a split among the voting delegates, but I do not want to see the Constitution, Green, Working Families and Peace parties silenced. My opposition is not based on “sour grapes”– In fact, IPO is one of only 2 of the minor and emerging parties in Oregon which would survive the effects of BM 65, which will wipe out parties with fewer than 10,000 registered members who now maintain their legal status by running candidates who receive at least 1% of the vote in statewide general elections.

    I have absolutely no financial ties to BM 65, pro or con, and I am not being paid for this post–I am opposed to BM 65 because it’s poorly drafted. It will reduce meaningful citizen involvement in collective action and direct democracy. It was put on the ballot by big money interests which will get the candidates they “want” under BM 65.

    BM 65 Makes Special Interests Even More Powerful in Picking Candidates.

    Now, why would Oregon’s largest land speculators, industry lobbyists, and a smelter owner pay a lot of money to get BM 65 on the ballot?

    OR has no campaign contribution limits at all–none. Most of you reading this live in the 45 states that actually limit money in state races, so you may not realize how totally corrupting unlimited money from special interests can be.

    OR votes by mail exclusively. The May primary ballots go out to voters in April. That means the money race for enough cash to make the top-two will start in the winter. The big funders will “anoint” the top-two and then “elect” the winner in the (even more) expensive November general election.

    Stifles citizen voices.

    Independent voters engage in personal democracy, they want their votes to count. But actual political strength and the power to change history come from the other great parts of the First Amendment–our freedoms of association and to collectively petition the government.

    A vote is an individual act, concerted action is what brought about Abolition, women’s suffrage, trust busting, the social safety net, environmental proctection, the end to the last tragic, pointless war.

    A robust democracy needs more voices, often brought to prominence through political campaigns. Killing minor parties and wiping out citizen sponsored candidates (in Oregon candidates can now get on the ballot thru petition or through assemblies of 1000 voters) is bad for Oregon.

    In practice, the need for insurgent and competitive candidates cannot be known until after the May primary. In Oregon, citizens (led by the Grange) had to draft a candidate for goivernor by petition in 1930 because the major party candidates were hand-picked by corporate interests and opposed rural power development and action to lift Oregon out of the depression. Julius Mieer won by 54% of the total vote, more than the other candidates combined vite.

    Too many drafting flaws to describe in detail.

    The Bill is poorly drafted. It fails to integrate dozens of current state election law statutes.

    It deprives the existing parties of the right to “nominate” candidates at all, a federal First Amendment violation which caused the State of Virgina to alter its compulsory open primary system after losing at the Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit (the appeals level just below the US Supreme Cout).

    It does not harmonize with federal election law. In particular, by not allowing party nominations, it thrreatens the rights of parties to support their federal candidates becasue FEC rules allow coordinated financial support only by state parties in support of their “nominees.” The top-two runoff candidates are not party nominees.

    If you live in Oregon–Voting for a hastily designed measure in the hopes it will get “fixed” is a bad idea. Do we want elected legislators to vote for any old thing and then promise to “fix” it somehow, sometime? As citizen legislators who vote of laws before us, we should hold ourselves to a high standard.

    Read BM 65 and understand it before you vote. If it needs “a fix” to make it work, then vote “NO.”

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