Oregon’s Closed Party Primary System Has the Potential to Disenfranchise More Than 100,000 Clackamas County Voters

Our current closed party primary system keeps non-affiliated and minor party voters out of important decision-making in our primary elections. There are now more than 1,022,000 non-affiliated voters in Oregon–more than either the total Democratic Party voters or Republican Party voters.

HOWEVER, in each primary election, hundreds of thousands of registered Oregon voters are not permitted to vote in partisan primary elections for their preferred candidates. In Oregon the two major parties (Democratic and Republican) have “closed primary elections.”  This means that you have to be a member of that party in order to vote in their closed election.  The Party Choice Deadline is 21 days before Election Day, the same day as the Voter Registration Deadline: April 26.

These non-affiliated voters share with me as their local election official that “I’m not a member of a party so my vote doesn’t count.” Voters feel disenfranchised and that spills over into apathy and a mistrust of the system as a whole. 

In Clackamas County, more than 99,000 voters are Non-Affiliated (meaning that they do not belong to any party) and another almost 22,000 voters belong to the Independent Party of Oregon or other minor parties. That means that 121,000 voters, or 40% of registered voters in Clackamas County won’t have a say in who our next Governor is and won’t have a say in who their representatives are in the state Senate, state House, US Senate, or US Congress in the upcoming May Primary Election.  They won’t be able to participate until they are simply making a choice between one Democrat, one Republican, and sometimes a third party candidate.   

The 2022 election season is upon us and the May 17 Primary Election is just weeks away. In Oregon, it is easy to vote: 

  • We have Vote-by-Mail.  Every registered voter gets a ballot mailed to their home. 
  • We have automatic voter registration. Every eligible citizen can be automatically registered to vote after a qualifying transaction at the DMV.
  • You can also register to vote once you turn 16 years old.  Then you will get your first ballot for your first eligible election after you turn 18.  There is no missing your first election because you did not know it was happening. 

As an elections administrator and voter education advocate, I know that often voters do not realize they are unable to choose the next Governor or next President until they receive their ballot in the mail and it does not show those partisan offices or the candidate they were planning to vote for. 

The bad news is that after you receive your ballot it is too late to choose a party. The rules are determined by the two major political parties and the state constitution allows the exclusion of all non-party members. 

What can you do about it?

Right Now: Decide if you want to vote in the Republican Closed Party Primary, the Democratic Closed Party Primary, or abstain and have only non-partisan offices on your ballot in May. Update your Party Choice online at OregonVotes.gov/myvote before the April 26 deadline (11:59 p.m. online, close of business in-person, or postmarked by April 26 on a registration form). 

Then: Follow and support initiative petitions like 2022-039 that would allow voters to decide on the November General Election ballot if in fact the Oregon Constitution should be amended to replace the Closed Party Primary with an Open Primary for state and federal offices. This would allow all registered voters to select candidates in the Primary to move on to the General Election. 

In Oregon the major parties (Democratic and Republican) have Closed Party Primary Elections. That means that in order to participate in a major party’s primary election you have to choose to be a member of that party. Image shows a donkey and elephant with blue top halves with white stars and bottom red halves.

Published by clackamasvoice

Voter-focused elections administrator and candidate for Clackamas County Clerk