MY VOICE: Open primaries will encourage people to vote

April 09, 2014 08:56 am

While collecting signatures on Initiative Petition 31-IP-0113 to place the question of whether Union County commissioners should be elected on a nonpartisan basis on the May 2014 primary ballot, petition circulators heard voters are tired of partisanship in government, want politicians to put the interests of the community before their party’s interests, and want them to move forward to solve difficult local, state, and national economic and social issues we face today. 

Voters who signed the petition believe Union County commissioners should be elected on a nonpartisan basis, as are all other local elected officials. Only a very few voters declined the opportunity to sign the petition. The reasons voters generally gave for signing the petition to place the question on the ballot are:

• “Partisanship has no place in local elections.”

• “Everyone should be able to vote for county commissioners in primary elections without having to change their party affiliations.”

• “Every voter should have an opportunity to vote for commissioners who decide on local issues that impact our lives on a daily basis.”

The ease with which signatures were collected and polling results indicate an understanding of the core issue: county commissioners are required to serve on a nonpartisan basis and should be elected and be accountable to all Union County residents, not just voters in one political party. A majority of respondents (77.1 percent) in a poll conducted by Union County Citizens for Good Government during July and August 2012 indicated support for county commissioners being elected on a nonpartisan basis. Seventy-one percent of respondents to a recent 2014 online response poll conducted by The Observer indicated they will vote “yes” on the question of electing county commissioners on a nonpartisan basis. 

There are often only candidates affiliated with one party running for the office of county commissioner. Consequently, the race that determines who the county commissioner will be is decided by a small portion of the voters in primary elections. Some younger voters registered as nonaffiliated or independents commented they have never had the opportunity to vote for a county commissioner.

One of Union County Citizens for Good Government members’ concerns is that there is limited information broadly available to voters about county commission candidates’ positions. The county does not publish a voters’ pamphlet and local candidates generally have not submitted statements to be included in the voters’ pamphlet published by the Oregon Secretary of State. While The Observer does report on candidates’ backgrounds and there are poorly attended candidate forums, the information candidates provide is generally limited and focused on specific party voters. 

It is true a candidate’s party affiliation provides some limited information about his or her core beliefs. But, his or her positions on policies and local issues have far more bearing on how they would fulfill their obligations to all Union County citizens. Candidates, running as nonpartisans accountable to all the voters, should be much more likely to reveal their positions on local issues that matter to voters. 

By voting “Yes” on Ballot Measure 31-84 you will give support to the belief that everyone’s vote does count. Future open primaries will encourage more people to vote, become involved in making political decisions and perhaps become engaged in community affairs. 

For more information about Ballot Measure 31-84, please visit Union County Citizens for Good Government’s Web page at


About the author

Terry Edvalson, 74, of La Grande is a retired Eastern Oregon University administrator and is retired from a business and nonprofit consulting practice. Edvalson provides staff support to the Union County Citizens for Good Government.


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