YOU DECIDE on Measure 90 - Top Two Primary (2014)

Measure 90 (the “top-two primary” measure) raises two civil liberties interests: meaningful access to the ballot for minority party and independent candidates and voters, and the right of association for political parties. Because of the competing civil liberties interests raised by the top-two primary, the ACLU of Oregon is neutral* on the measure and encourages voters to carefully examine arguments on both sides in order to make an informed decision as to their vote.

Proponents of the top-two primary expect the measure to increase participation by thousands of unaffiliated (independent) voters who, because they are not registered as members of a major political party, are currently unable to vote on Democratic or Republican candidates in the primary election. Further, proponents view the top-two primary as an opportunity for minor parties to participate at a more critical stage: the primary. Potentially, minor parties may have a better chance of sending a candidate to the general election as one of the top-two candidates than minor parties do today when competing in a crowded general election.

Opponents of the top-two primary are concerned that the measure will have no impact on relatively low voter turnout rates in primary elections, but will vastly limit voter choice in the higher-turnout general election. Experiments in other states with the top-two primary system, including California and Washington, so far, have failed to demonstrate the benefits predicted by proponents, such as increased voter turnout in elections. Instead, the risk that minor party and independent candidates will fail to advance past the primary election means that those voices will not be heard in the general election and the system will further alienate those voters. Furthermore, opponents of the top-two primary argue that the measure would undermine the right of association for political parties because it would take away the current process of major party members choosing the candidate to represent them in the general election.

Encouraging more voters to participate in the primary election and protecting voter choice in the general election are both important civil liberties interests. The ACLU is neutral on Measure 90 and encourages you to decide.

*The ACLU of Oregon Board of Directors originally decided to oppose Measure 90 and that position appeared in the voter guide of our Fall newsletter, which was mailed to Oregon ACLU members in mid-September. However, at its September 27th meeting the Board, upon further reflection of the competing civil liberties issues, made a rare decision to reconsider its position on the top-two primary proposal. The Board voted to change its position to neither support nor oppose Measure 90 but to remain neutral.