Time to let the voters decide

By Observer editorial January 10, 2014 07:05 am

Disenfranchised Union County voters may soon get empowered and no longer suffer the ballot box blues.


The reason? A group called Union County Citizens for Good Government Tuesday submitted signature sheets to Union County Clerk Robin Church to get a measure on the May 20 ballot. The measure would make the office of Union County commissioner nonpartisan.

According to the Association of Oregon Counties, 20 of the state’s 36 counties elect their commissioners in nonpartisan races. Union County voters should get to decide whether their county becomes No. 21.

Such a measure, if passed, would allow any voter to vote for any candidate of any political party.

It makes sense that the vote for commissioners become nonpartisan, since commissioners serve on a nonpartisan basis. They are tasked to serve all of Union County, not just those who agree with their political leanings. The problem that exists now is that county commissioner races have a closed primary. That means only Republican-registered voters can vote in the Republican primary, and only Democrat-registered voters can vote in the Democratic primary. Since Union County is predominantly Republican, the main race for commissioner has often been decided in the primary.

Independent and non-affiliated voters, and Union County has a fair share of these, don’t get a chance to participate until the general election.

All voters should get a chance to decide who becomes commissioner. Citizens for Good Government said in the 2012 race between Republicans Mark Davidson and Irene Gilbert, only 25 percent of voters decided the outcome. As a democracy, we need to encourage more participation.  

A switch to a nonpartisan scheme would also allow more candidates to join the mix in the primary, more viewpoints to be heard and give voters more choices. That, too, would be empowering.

In the big picture, there is little fear that nonpartisan elections would result in radical changes from who gets elected now. The switch to nonpartisan commissioners would not result in a campaign mud bath. However, it might just force candidates to be more accountable to all voters — and encourage public service in the public interest of all voters. The majority, though, would still rule. Yet it would give more voters a chance to vote, and more candidates, some independent or non-affiliated, a chance to make a run for county government.

All registered voters should have a right to be involved in the democratic process.

Candidates will still lean to the right or the left. But nonpartisan elections will help increase voter turnout, especially in the primary elections.

Should the ballot measure pass in May, it would not take effect until the 2016 primary.

Here’s hoping the signatures are verified, and the measure gets on the May 20 ballot. All registered voters have a right to citizen involvement. All should have the right to participate in choosing their government, and not be forced to sit on the sideline as the game is decided.