“Open Primary” Makes Oregon Ballot

Off and on since the 1960s, Mississippians have expressed a wish for an “open primary.” This has usually referred to nonpartisan elections, in which there are no party primaries. All candidates, including independents, are listed on the same ballot, with the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, proceeding to the runoff.

Five times between 1966 and 1979, the Mississippi legislature passed the “open primary,” but its implementation was stopped each time. In the meantime, Louisiana began using the “open primary” for its state and local elections in 1975 and for its congressional elections in 1978.

Louisiana has heretofore been the only state that has used the “open primary” to elect all of its state and congressional officials, but the Bayou State, starting this year, has restored party primaries for its congressional elections.

In November 2004, nearly 60 percent of the voters of Washington state approved a Louisiana-style “top two” system (a much more accurate term than “open primary”) for the Evergreen State. Federal litigation delayed implementation of the “top two” until this year, and the first round is scheduled for August 19. Several of the state’s political parties, however, are asking the 9th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals to block the “top two”; briefs are due on August 2.

On July 21, the Oregon secretary of state announced that, as expected, the “open primary” initiative has qualified for that state’s November 4 ballot (like the Washington measure, it includes congressional as well as state elections).

Oregon’s political parties are stronger than Washington’s, and I believe that the “open primary” will have a harder time winning in the Beaver State. Nonetheless, 2008 is a volatile political year, and passage of the initiative is a definite possibility.

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