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Union County Citizens for Good Government volunteer Terry Edvalson, center, submits signature sheets to Union County Clerk Robin Church Tuesday morning. The group, which includes Jim Mollerstrom, left, submitted the signatures to get a measure on the May 20 ballot that would pose to voters, “Shall the office of Union County Commissioner become a nonpartisan office?” (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
Petitioners submit signature sheets to county for commissioner ballot measure
An effort to create a nonpartisan county board of commissioners took a major step forward Tuesday.
The Union County Citizens for Good Government submitted signature sheets to Union County Clerk Robin Church to get a measure on the May 20 ballot that would pose to voters, “Shall the office of Union County Commissioner become a nonpartisan office?”
The Union County Citizens for Good Government collected an estimated 1,328 signatures from May to August 2013. Only 650 certified signatures are required to place an initiative before voters.
Terry Edvalson, a volunteer with the group, said they were moved to start a petition when the county commissioners declined to put the initiative on the ballot by ordinance.
“We took up the challenge,” Edvalson said.
Volunteers went to big events and even went door to door to collect signatures.
Edvalson noted that 20 counties in Oregon have nonpartisan commissioner races.
“Often the response was, ‘Why hasn’t someone done this before?’ The answer is I don’t know. There’s no reason for it to be partisan,” Edvalson said.
Organizers said other county positions are nonpartisan and that the commissioners serve on a nonpartisan basis, so it makes sense that they would be elected the same way.
Currently, the county commissioner races have a closed primary, meaning only voters affiliated with the same party as the candidate can vote. In the 2012 commissioner race between Republicans Mark Davidson and Irene Gilbert, Citizens for Good Government say only 25 percent of Union County voters decided the outcome.
“At the present point in time, 3,810 people can’t even participate in a partisan race,” said Ray Randall, one of the chief petitioners with Union County Citizens for Good Government. Randall added that all taxpayers are paying for the elections.
Randall said the measure, if passed, would open opportunities for candidates who are independent, from minor parties or have no party affiliation.
“We can expand that pool of candidates,” he said, noting that they are at a disadvantage with the current system. “They don’t get the name recognition because they aren’t part of the primary process.”
Edvalson added that candidates could still disclose their party affiliation, but the measure would take away the “R” or “D” next to their names.
“We’re not taking that right away from them,” he said.
Edvalson said nonpartisan races would “change the tenor” of county politics.
Commissioner Steve McClure said he respects the right of the people to make a change.
“My attitude is it’s a democratic process and if people want to do that it’s fine,” he said. “I think it’s fair for the people to make a statement of what they want.”
McClure is not convinced that it would change local politics, though.
“I don’t really think it’s going to make a significant change,” he said. “It doesn’t change the political makeup of the community.”
If the ballot measure passes in May, changes would not take effect until the 2016 primary. The county clerk has 15 business days to certify the signatures.