Allow Oregonians to Vote for President

Author: Samuel Metz

Date: 01/04/2006

Did anyone notice that Oregonians had no voice in the last Presidential elections? 

Well, technically, we were offered a choice between two candidates, but who selected them? No one in Oregon. 

For Republicans, the 2004 nomination was a done deal. It is rare that a seated president seeking re-election is spurned. Lyndon Johnson enjoyed the dubious distinction of being the only such case in the last 100 years. Those Republicans seeking an alternative to George W. Bush were disappointed but not surprised. 

Oregon Democrats, however, were truly taken for a ride in 2004. By the time we put our fingers on a ballot lever, the shooting was over. All candidates save one (plus the pesky Dennis Kucinich who acknowledged he had no chance) had bowed out. Oregonians faced a Hobson’s choice: Senator John Kerry, or no one.

Is this any way to run a party? 

On January 1, 2004, four months before the Oregon primary, Democrats officially recognized nine candidates (excluding Lyndon LaRouche who, although running as a Democrat, was in fact an alien) of whom two, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton, had no detectable chance of winning. 

Within six weeks, only two viable candidates remained and by week nine the race was over. What happened in two months? 

Representative Richard Gephardt withdrew after the Iowa caucus, a vote representing less than 0.1% of the Democrats ultimately voting in primaries. Senator Joseph Lieberman was next, this time after less than 8% of Democrats voted. 

By the time General Wesley Clark and ex-Governor Howard Dean dropped out, only 18% of Democrats had spoken. And Senator John Edwards conceded after 61% of Democrats had the opportunity to vote. 

. . . Leaving 21 states with no voice in who would represent the Democratic Party as President. These states include Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and, of course, Oregon. 

The above numbers underestimate the sorry state of malrepresentation. Senator Kerry received 59 million votes for President, most of them Democrats. Yet only 16 million participated in the Democratic primary elections. Makes you think the turnout in those bootless and unhorsed 21 states might have been higher if they had a choice, doesn’t it? In fact, if we consider that 50 million Democrats might have voted in a primary if given a choice, then the race was over when only 33% of Democrats had cast a ballot.

Is this any way to run a party? 

In 2000, Oregon Republicans suffered the same indignity of having a minority tail wag the majority dog. The race between Governor George W. Bush and Senator John McCain was all but over by March 3, leaving more than 43% of Republicans to accept the candidate selected by the first 57%. And yes, we Oregonians were among the 43% left holding the bag, a bag with a single candidate. 

In 2008, Oregonians will once again face the fact that our votes for Presidential nominees will count for naught. 

What’s a voter to do?

First, acknowledge that our national party conventions do not select candidates: they simply validate a foregone conclusion. No convention since 1952 required a second ballot, and no convention after 1960 had any doubt about who the nominee would be. Conventions are colorful, keep the balloon industry in business, and allow party faithful to pump themselves up for the upcoming Presidential campaign. But they do not pick candidates. 

Second, use the same format in all states. Not all use a direct primary in which all registered party voters may participate. Many of the earliest, and most influential, elections are intimate party caucuses, in which local elite sample their own opinions. How about letting all registered party members have a say? 

Third, our primary campaign season begins in mid-January with the Iowa and caucus and New Hampshire primary, and ends with the last pre-convention vote in early June with the poor slackers in New Jersey. Five months is a long time for a candidate to sustain momentum, generate campaign funds, and stay in the race. The unfortunate candidate scorned by a few thousand voters in two Winter elections may be trampled underfoot before the Spring thaw. We in Oregon who go to the polls when birds are singing have little to celebrate. Or to choose from. 

Throw out those 19th century caucuses and this archaic system. Our primaries select our only two viable presidential candidates from a field that may start with dozens. It is our only chance to determine who we really want to be president. 

Our national parties should create a series of primaries spaced out over four Tuesdays in May. Vary the sequence each year so every state will eventually enjoy voting on the first Tuesday. Candidates doing poorly in the first week’s results may still have steam and money enough for a second week. We may see candidates choke before the month is out, but at least we gave them a fighting chance.

Let democracy return to our presidential campaign, and let Oregonians vote for president. 

And still keep our national conventions and those spectacular balloon showers.

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