What I can point to is a point when political parties in Washington
tried to force greater political allegiance and were bucked by the
voters. About 15 years ago the Republican and Democratic parties sued
and were able to get Washington’s old open primary law tossed by the
courts. In the old version, Washington voters did not register by party
and were able to vote for any candidate in a primary. The top vote
getter from each party would advance.
After the courts
threw out that version (because the parties said that by not controlling
who voted in their primaries violated their rights to association) the
state instituted a more closed primary. Each voter would get a series
ballots with only a certain party’s candidates on each. You’d turn in
one ballot, forcing you to participate in only one primary.
This was similar to Oregon’s current primary law in which parties have the ability to open their primaries to non-registered voters.
Washington voters quickly rejected the more closed primary system,
opting instead for a Top Two primary, which actually just works as a
qualifying election. Instead of the original primary system that sought
to break down the walls that guarded parties by opening up their
nomination processes to the general public, the Top Two makes that
meaningless. The Top Two passes along the top vote getters, even if both
say they’re Democrats or Republicans.
election system was rejected by more than a 10 percent margin in Oregon,
giving argument to the point that maybe Oregon and Washington aren’t
that alike in political cultures. But, an analysis after Measure 65 went down in flames said the loss had more to do with the explanation of the measure than anything else.
Oregon voters were used to their current system and Washington voters
had a new system foisted on them by the courts and the parties was
probably the best way to explain the difference in the two initiative
The most important thing to think about in
terms of the possibility of a Top Two system in Oregon is that the idea
itself in 2008 came from the political center of the state political
culture. Rather than some quixotic political dreamer, Measure 65 was
proposed by two former Oregon secretaries of state and supported by a
popular former (and now again current) governor. And, now its coming back again.
So, the idea of voting systems that ignore the institutional power of parties likely have some home in the Cascadian
political culture. Rather than a large group or band centered politics,
like religion, politics are grown from much smaller groups and from the
person themselves. It is important to participate, the civic good is
worth promoting. But, no large organization or institution is going to
tell the average Cascadian voter what to do.