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WA to OR: “Top Two” Primary Works for Us

October 23, 2008

Olympia, WA – In less than two weeks, Oregon voters will decide how their future primary elections will be run. If they vote to pass Measure 65, the voters would no longer be required to declare a party affiliation in the primaries. Instead, the top two candidates in each race would go on to the General Election, no matter what party they represent.

Washington State started using the "top two" primary system this year, and Washington's Secretary of State, Sam Reed, says so far, it's worked well.

"The election administrators found it a very easy election to administer. The political parties were saying, 'Oh, the voters are going to be so confused!' Well, it turned out that they weren't confused in the slightest. We didn't get any feedback about confused voters - the feedback was all very, very positive."

It didn't start out that way, however. Voters approved the "top two" primary system in Washington in 2004, only to have both major political parties challenge the new system in court. Four years later, the parties lost - in a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court - and the state had its first "top two" primary in August 2008.

Reed's office administered that election. He believes the new system reflects the independent spirit of today's voters.

"People are tired of narrow, partisan politics. By having this kind of primary system, you are emphasizing that you have to reach out to all the people. So, I think they're going to like the 'top two' in Oregon, if this initiative is adopted."

Critics of the "top two" system say it will increase the cost of campaigns, and that big political parties will still find ways to dominate the primaries. After the August primary, however, an independent poll found 70 percent of the Washington voters now prefer the "top two" system. Only 20 percent said they'd rather to return to the old "pick-a-party" primary system, in which voters must declare a party affiliation in order to participate in a primary.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR