By Sandra Johnson
Are You Registered in a Political Party and Not Know It?
For good reason, many people have become unhappy with how some of our political leaders have acted in recent years. To demonstrate their unwillingness to be associated with either of the traditionally major parties, Republican or Democratic, they have chosen to register their party affiliation in Oregon as “Independent.” In fact, there are over 130,000 people registered in the state as Independent. But does that mean they are independent of a political party? No. There actually is a party called the “Independent Party of Oregon” which a voter becomes affiliated with when registering as “independent” in Oregon. That party has its own platforms and candidates.
Can You Register to Vote Without Declaring Yourself To Be Associated With a Political Party?
In Oregon it is possible to register to vote without becoming affiliated with a political party. That registration is called “Nonaffiliated.” According to the Oregon Secretary of State’s website, there are now more Nonaffiliated voters registered in the state than either Democratic or Republican voters.
There are several reasons voters may be registered as Nonaffiliated. One reason may be that the voter has automatically become registered to vote at the local DMV office when obtaining an Oregon driver’s license. The default in that case is to register the resident as Nonaffiliated. Although the state does send the newly registered resident an Oregon Motor Voter notification providing an option to affiliate with a party, some do not exercise that option.
Another reason a voter may be registered as Nonaffiliated may be intentional. The Oregon Voter Registration Card, which can be filled out by those without an Oregon driver’s license, provides an option of checking the box entitled “Not a member of a party.” By checking that box, the voter is considered Nonaffiliated.
Is Registration as Nonaffiliated the Best Way To Demonstrate Your Unhappiness With The Political Parties?
Although the number of Nonaffiliated voters in Oregon may make a statement about the disenchantment of Oregon voters with the two major political parties, that statement does not really change anything about how our political leaders are acting and voting on crucial issues.
The way our democracy is designed to work, voters have the responsibility to vote to elect or reject candidates. The first step in this process is to select the best candidates to run for office in the Primary Election. However, Nonaffiliated voters are generally not allowed to participate in this very important step. Nonaffiliated voters may vote for nonpartisan races and for measures in the Primary Election, but not for major party candidates. The reason for this is most political parties in Oregon hold “closed primaries.” A closed primary is one in which only voters who are registered members of a particular party can vote for the candidates in that party’s primary. So consider, for example, there are six (or more!) candidates running for the Governor’s seat, one of whom is registered with a major party whom you believe would be a great candidate. If you are registered as Nonaffiliated, you would not be able to vote in the Primary to help ensure that candidate qualifies for the general election. With limited exceptions, only the winners of the Primary Elections from different parties proceed to run against each other in the General Election. All registered voters can vote in the General Election.
How Can a Nonaffiliated Voter Participate in the Upcoming Primary Election?
As mentioned above, a Nonaffiliated voter cannot vote in a Primary Election for a candidate associated with a major political party. However, Nonaffiliated voters can register to vote as a member of a party for the upcoming May Primary Election by changing their registration. This can be done at the County Clerk’s Office, by mail, or electronically through the Secretary of State’s website (sos.oregon.gov). April 26th is the voter registration and party change deadline this year. Ballots for the Primary Election will be mailed on April 27th. It is not too late to make a difference by becoming eligible to vote for the candidates of your choice in the 2022 Primary Election.