A better way to elect commissioners
Like many states, Oregon has a closed primary election, whereby a registered voter may cast a vote for a candidate only if both — voter and candidate — are registered with the same party. Republicans can only vote for other Republicans and Democrats can only vote for other Democrats in partisan primary contests. The primary is actually a nominating process for major party candidates in the partisan races.
A considerable number of voters are left out in the cold. As of November 2013, Union County had 3,810 voters registered outside the two major parties — 2,798 as nonpartisan, 673 as independent and 339 as other party. These voters will receive their primary ballots, but those ballots will not show candidates in the partisan races. Approximately 26-1/2 percent of our registered voters have no opportunity to vote in these primary races, nor can they file for candidacy for a partisan office in the primary election.
In 1995, our state Legislature improved the system for choosing most county officials. From then on our sheriffs, district attorneys, clerks, treasurers, assessors and surveyors have filed as nonpartisan. That has allowed all voters to choose a candidate for all of those seats in the primary elections. This is simple and fair to all. From outward appearances it seems acceptable to voters. There has been no public outcry in opposition.
The significant change in 1995 did not include county commissioner positions. Counties have the authority to modify their systems for selecting county commissioners and most have already done so. But, Union County retains the old partisan system.
Neither of the major parties in Union County have an outright majority in registered voters. Neither has any particular right to believe that their candidates should always prevail. In our county, we do not always have both Republican and Democrat candidates filing for open commissioner seats. When that occurs then only one of the major parties gets to pick our next commissioner. That means a minority group of voters gets to choose.
There are those who will say that if commissioner races do not have anyone filing from your chosen party, then you can change your party affiliation so that you might vote in that race. You can change, but when you do that, it will keep you from voting for partisan candidates in state and federal races with your current party. You can register in only one party at a time. Changing registration to cast a vote in commissioner contests is your choice, but there is another solution.
Union County Citizens for Good Government, a local group, has proposed that voters modify our county system to elect our commissioners just as we elect all our other county officials. This group circulated a petition in 2013, and recently our county clerk verified the necessary number of signatures. Ballot Measure 31-84 will appear on the May 20 ballot.
Approval of Measure 31-84 means that all voters have equal rights to vote for commissioner candidates in primary contests as those races will then be nonpartisan. Candidates would retain the right to identify their party affiliations at campaign events and in advertising material. If only two candidates run for a commissioner seat in the primary, the winner will be elected in the primary. If three or more are in a race, the top two from the primary will compete in the general election.
In this same election there will be primary races for the two commissioner seats that are up for reconsideration. The candidates will once again file as partisans because Ballot Measure 31-84 must be approved by the voters before the process will be modified. This is an unfortunate matter of timing, but voters should remember that they can still improve the system for commissioner elections beyond 2014 into the future.
Please vote in the upcoming primary election and vote yes on Ballot Measure 31-84. Any voter can then file to run and all voters can choose our future commissioners.
Ray Randall of Union works part time for a local rancher. Randall is one of three chief petitioners for 31-IP-0113 which led to Ballot Measure 31-84.
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