James Kelly, the chief petitioner of an initiative that would radically rewrite Oregon’s primary system, said Thursday that he believes his group has gathered enough signatures to get on the November ballot. Kelly, a Portland businessman who now lives on an eastern Oregon ranch, said his group will finish petitioning Friday and most likely turn in signatures early next week. He said they’ve collected about 145,000 signatures, which gives them a large margin to ensure they have the 87,213 valid signatures from registered voters needed to qualify. Kelly’s initiative would replace Oregon’s partisan primary races with the type of system now used in California and Washington. Under this system, all of the candidates would be listed on the same primary ballot, and the top two finishers regardless of party would advance to the general election.
Supporters argue that primaries open to all voters would give more of a voice to the increasing percentage of Oregon voters who don’t register as either Democrats or Republicans. And they say that it would reduce political polarization because candidates would have to appeal more to centrist voters.
However, the measure has been strongly criticized by political party officials who argue that it would drive up campaign costs and give voters fewer choices in the general election. Political observers still debate its impact on California and Washington politics.