Oregon taxpayers have to spend $200,000 on a cumbersome elections process that will ask the state’s nearly 440,000 unaffiliated voters if they want a Republican primary ballot that features just one candidate. Republican and Democratic Party officials are each accusing the other of wasting taxpayer money while in pursuit of a partisan advantage. About the only thing that’s clear is that only one Republican has even signed up to run for the three statewide seats that the GOP opened to voters who don’t register in any political party. That’s left everybody feeling a little frustrated. “There’s not much benefit,” fumed Rob Kremer, treasurer of the Oregon Republican Party, “in taxpayer money being spent to no purpose.”
When the Republican state central committee approved what they dubbed their “freedom primary” in early February, they promoted it as a way to become more competitive in the state by giving unaffiliated voters a say in picking their candidates for attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer. Then the problems started. Republican officials soon discovered that they could not simply list those three races on the ballots sent to unaffiliated voters in advance of the May primary.
Instead, state law — written before the state went to all-mail elections — says these voters have to request a ballot. That means the secretary of state’s office has to send out postcards to all non-affiliated voters asking them to respond electronically or in writing if they want a Republican ballot included along with the other ballot listing non-partisan races. The Republicans knew that wouldn’t produce much response. The Democrats held open primaries under similar rules in 1998 and 2000 and found that fewer than 5 percent of unaffiliated voters bothered to request a party ballot.