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Fight for the rights of independent voters will continue

With the Nov. 4 election, the vote on Measure 90 fell short of our goal to create a fully inclusive election system in Oregon. Thirty-two percent voted in favor of the nonpartisan reform, the same percentage of voters who are currently locked out of primary voting under the closed system.

The road to having an election system that recognizes and supports the independent voter is a long and winding one. We knew that when we began the campaign, and the results bear that out. But we are not discouraged, and we hope you won't be either!

Many Oregonians — and many Americans — are discouraged by the state of politics and we understand why. Elections may decide which party controls government, but the parties are more distant from the people than they've ever been. That's why so many voters are independents — 42 percent nationally.

In Oregon, while 75 percent of Republicans and Democrats turned out — only 57 percent of independents voted, based on turnout figures from the secretary of state for nonaffiliated, Independent Party and Working Families Party voters. This is part of the growing disillusion with the partisan process itself, which Measure 90 was created to address. But, for the moment, it's hard to bring those two things together, especially when the parties' campaign against Measure 90 made people fearful of systemic change — even though that's the very thing that's needed!

On a national conference call for independents she hosts bi-monthly, Jackie Salit, president of IndependentVoting.org (our national affiliate) spoke to over 145 activists around the country about the results of the mid-term elections. Entitled “Post Election Roundup: Who Won, Who Lost and Who’s Growing?” Salit addressed the national results first before turning to Oregon, pointing out that the Republican Party had gained majority control of the Senate, sweeping all the open Senate seats and defeating incumbent Democrats in several key states while beating back a very strong challenge from an independent, Greg Orman, in Kansas.

In addition, they fortified their control of the House of Representatives, adding 15 seats to their previous majority, and now control both houses of the state legislatures in 29 states (the highest since 1920) as well as at least 31 governorships. “The simple and obvious answer,” she said, “to the question of ‘who won’ is the Republican Party.”

But this, she explained, was far from a ringing endorsement of the GOP by the voters, pointing to the findings of Frank Luntz. Luntz conducted Election Day surveys revealing that 42 percent of voters apparently chose their Senate candidate because they hated the opponent more. And one pre-election day poll showed that 70 percent said it would be best if everyone in Congress were thrown out and we started from scratch to form a new one.

Salit said the question that Election Day did not answer, is what are American’s going to do about the fact that we are trapped in a a self-perpetuating system of partisanship, intractable gridlock and political narrow-mindedness? The campaign in Oregon to pass Measure 90, she observed, was the most notable and honest attempt to go at that problem in the 2014 mid-terms.

The message of our campaign – that 700,000 independent voters are denied the right to vote, so let’s reform the primary system so everyone can vote — was deeply popular with the public, polling as high as 60 percent or more when the details of how Measure 90 worked were explained. Among independents, levels of support got as high as 70 to 80 percent. But the opposition was fierce and grew more so as the support for the measure, both in voter response and its ability to attract financial support, also grew. The No on 90 campaign was designed to frighten voters away from this reform and though both parties opposed it, it was the Democratic Party and its allies in the progressive and union movement that led and funded the campaign against Measure 90.

In spite of that, there were some who crossed the line — the Working Families Part; the Independence Party of Oregon; Eugene’s Mark Frohnmayer, founder of the Equal Vote Coalition; and chief petitioner Jim Kelly and his allies in Oregon’s business community.

On behalf of the Independent Voters of Oregon (IVOO), we want to thank each and every one who supported this initiative and this movement. The 700,000 Oregon voters who do not belong to the major parties and whose ranks are growing deserve to have full voting rights, and someday they will.

We pledge to keep our democracy efforts going strong, and we ask that you join us. The campaign for Measure 90 opened up a crucial conversation about new methods of voting, new kinds of coalitions and new ways of responding to the partisanship that is narrowing public debate and harming our country. Thanks so much for being a part of the conversation to bring new forms of democracy to our state. Let's keep going.

Charles Young of Roseburg and David Ellis of Portland are co-founders of the Independent Voters of Oregon.