"Open primary"? Not really
We blogged yesterday about Greg Macpherson's solicitation of our support for what he calls an "open primary." But as an alert reader points out, that isn't what he ballot measure that Macpherson is touting creates. It's more like a runoff system in a nonpartisan election. We'll let the reader explain:
The use of the term "Open Primary" is nothing but bait and switch. This scheme in no way resembles Open Primaries as the term is used or understood anywhere. In fact, the term "open primary" was turned down for inclusion in the ballot title, because it doesn't describe what is proposed. It prohibits parties, any parties, from nominating candidates to the General Election. It doesn't "open" the Primary in the way that term is understood in other states. In other words, instead of allowing voters who are not members of a party to participate in that party's nominating process, it eliminates the nominating process altogether and replaces it with a top two runoff. Plus, It uses invented, intuitively meaningless terminology for a core concept, which offices it will affect, "voter choice offices." Huh? And races for non-partisan positions it would not affect are not "voter choice offices"? This is just classic obfuscation.Sounds fishy to us.
The measure asserts without evidence that: "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."
In fact there is plenty of evidence that this measure would lead to the opposite result. In a crowded primary election, we would have no way of knowing who was supported by a majority of the electorate. The pluralities received by the top two would be dependent on the preferences distributed among the other candidates. In fact, we would not necessarily elect a candidate from the party supported by a majority of the voters. In the not far-fetched scenario in which four Democratic candidates split 60% of the vote, two Republican candidates could go to the general election, denying a majority an opportunity to elect a candidate or party they mostly agree with. And the party elected is significant, since both the Congress and the Legislature are organized around parties, and nothing about this measure changes either one.
It violates the principal of independence from irrelevant alternatives as described in studies of electoral systems. (Look up Arrow's Theorem.) A group's preference for A over B can be radically subverted if a subset prefers C over A. In other words, in an election in which a majority would prefer A over B or C in a two-way race, in a three-way it's quite possible that B and C would advance to the runoff election, and that A would appear to come in third.
Or would we have to rely on backroom deals to limit the number of candidates to prevent that kind of paradoxical result? Of course the pressure would be intense to stay out of the race if your entry would cause your party's vote to be split more than the other's. In that sense, from both the candidate's standpoint and the standpoint of voter choice, this system would be more closed than the one we have now.
Questions have been raised as to whether it bars alternative means of reaching the general election ballot. Some think not, some think only to the major parties, and so far the Oregon Supreme Court says yes, the only way to the general election ballot would be via the top two primary. The text of the measure can be cited to support any of those positions. Ah, the litigation opportunities abound.
It uses the term "open primary," and yet proposes a system that is radically different from how that term is used in law and political science. This makes the initiative process a bait and switch scheme. And even though the Oregon Supreme Court declined the petitioner's request to put that term into the ballot title, they use it on the street as part of the standard signature gathering script. It must have had good positives in a poll or focus group, as a term disembodied from the measure it is supposed to describe.