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Some voters upset they couldn't vote in primary contests

Some voters in Jackson County and around the state claim their party affiliation was changed and they were unable to vote in the May primaries for candidates of certain political parties.

In Oregon’s closed primary system, voters must be registered as Republicans, Democrats or with another party in order to get a ballot with candidates from their preferred party.

Nonaffiliated voters get ballots that have only nonpartisan races.

Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker said people had to register for a particular party by April 28 in order to vote for that party’s candidates in the May 19 primary election.

Nonaffiliated voters who tried to register for a party, or people who tried to change parties after April 28, could not make those changes. The party registration period won’t open again until this summer, after official election results are certified, Walker said.

Some people have tried to register for a party or change parties online during that closed window, but none of those efforts will work, she said.

To warn people they needed to register for a party before April 28 in order to vote on partisan races, Walker sent out a press release April 23 with instructions.

Walker said some people mistakenly believe that if they vote for a particular party’s candidate during a November presidential election, they belong to that party. But they still have to register for a party.

In 2016, the state’s Motor Voter Act went into effect. Oregonians are automatically registered to vote when they apply for or renew their driver’s license. In order for the act to be politically neutral, new voters are automatically registered as nonaffiliated.

Newly registered voters are sent postcards telling them how to pick a party by mail or by visiting the state elections website.

So many people fail to choose a party or decide to stay nonaffiliated that there are nearly a million nonaffiliated voters in Oregon. Democrats have the most voters, the nonaffiliated group is in second place, and Republicans are in third place, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported in December 2019.

The number of nonaffiliated voters jumped by 7% from January to December 2019, largely due to the Motor Voter Act, OPB reported.

That means fewer Oregonians get to help choose candidates during political primaries in the spring.

Walker said the state’s closed primary system generates complaints every spring when people receive ballots and don’t get to vote on all candidates.

“This happens every primary election,” she said.

In general elections in the fall, voters get to choose from a full slate of candidates representing all parties, Walker said.

She said there have been more complaints than usual about this May’s primary election, possibly because of people talking about the issue on social media.

A Facebook and Twitter group called “My Party Was Changed Oregon” was asking people to share stories of how their political party was changed without their permission. More than 2,400 people had joined the group.

After Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno contacted the social media companies, Facebook tagged the group’s post as “partly false” and began referring people to fact checks on it by the websites PolitiFact, run by the journalism nonprofit Poynter Institute, and Lead Stories, which is a project of the nonpartisan Rand Corporation think tank. Twitter suspended the “My Party Changed” account last Friday.

Looking at complaints from voters who were impacted in Jackson County, Walker said the closed primary system affected some of those people.

A few problems were caused by human errors in the Jackson County Clerk’s office, such as entering the wrong address number during data entry, she said.

Other people had registered for a political party so long ago they forgot their affiliation, Walker said.

If someone needs help figuring out why they didn’t get to vote on a party’s candidates, the Jackson County Clerk’s office can help by checking their voter history, including their party registration, Walker said.

Call 541-774-6148 for help.

Later in the summer, people will be able to visit www.oregonvotes.gov to register for a party or change parties.

People can always visit the website and click on My Vote to see if their voter registration is current and if they are registered with a party.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

file photo / Jamie Lusch / Mail Triune Ballots are dropped off at the Medford Elections Office .