Eileen Kiely

Eileen Kiely

Primary season is underway. And over a third of Oregon voters are not eligible to vote in the primaries for the gubernatorial, congressional, and state legislative races. In districts where the voters lean heavily red or blue, a select minority of voters will decide who represents us.

And you, reader, may not be eligible, even though you think you are. You can check your own registration at www.Oregonvotes.gov/myvote. You can easily update your registration online with a party affiliation or change of address so you get the right ballot in time to cast your vote for the May primary.

Except, not THAT easily.

Oregon has some of the best voter registration laws in the country, with automatic registration updates through the Department of Motor Vehicles any time you get a new title, registration or license, or make a change at the DMV. But it also has some of the worst computer systems.

When you register through the DMV, unless there is a previous voter record for you, you will be automatically registered with Oregon’s fastest growing voter affiliation – none at all.

And that means you don’t get to vote in the Democratic or Republican primary this May.

By law, Oregon is a closed primary state, meaning only registered party voters may vote in a party primary. But Oregon law also allows a major party to open their primary to Non-Affiliated Voters (NAVs), through a vote of their State Central Committee - delegates from all over Oregon that make the rules for the state parties. Neither the Democratic Party of Oregon (DPO), nor the Oregon Republican Party (ORP) have chosen to do so for the 2022 primaries.

Why don’t they?

Both the Independent Party of Oregon (IPO) and the ORP have opened some races in the past up to NAVs. And frankly, the NAVs didn’t show up, sometimes because they didn't know their options.

Oregonians, even those affiliated with a party, largely agree that we want a broader swath of the electorate to decide who we choose from on the November ballot. We don’t, however, agree on the best way to do that. In the legislature, members of both parties continue to avoid working it out.

What’s a voter to do?

The Secretary of State maintains an online portal for voters to access their voter registration. You can use it to change party affiliation an infinite number of times. But like most computer systems in state government, it does not provide immediate results. It will likely be about two weeks before the update is effective. The SOS will run a report of the updates and send them to the respective county clerks. Then it is up to the clerk to actually make the change in their own computer system and notify the SOS that it has been done.

I understand some voters really don’t want to affiliate with a party. But we live in a state where the law says you can’t vote in all the races if you aren’t affiliated. And yet, there’s a website that lets you get around it — like Tinder, for voters. You don’t have to marry a party; Oregon lets you date around.

We have an open governor seat for the first time in 12 years. Half the state has a competitive congressional primary. Redistricting and retirements have led to a record number of open seats in the Oregon Legislature. In this general election, we will choose dozens of new people to represent us at all levels of government, potentially for the next decade, if not longer. But only the people who vote on May 17 will decide who is on our November ballot.

Oregon, take your shot. Pick a party and go for it. You can do it on paper with your local county clerk by 5 p.m. April 26, or online at www.oregonvotes.gov/myvote two weeks earlier (because you know, it takes time).

And while you are at it, you might want to ask those candidates if they commit to making it easier for all Oregonians to vote in every election, even the primaries.

Eileen Kiely was  legislative candidate for Oregon House in 2018 and Oregon Senate in 2020, and is a lifetime member of the Democratic Party. 

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