by Hannah Hoffman
published by the Statesman-Journal on 2/10/2015
It's official: Oregon has become the only state in the country with three major political parties.
Secretary of State Kate Brown announced Monday afternoon that the Independent Party of Oregon has enough members to be a major party, on par with the Republican and Democratic parties.
As of Feb. 2, the party had 108,742 members, just three more than the threshold requires, which is more than 5 percent of the registered voters in the 2014 gubernatorial election.
Brown noted in a statement that the party will be subject to re-verification on Aug. 17, which could potentially change the outcome if it were to lose four members.
This ruling changes Oregon's elections in two ways.
First, it allows the Independent Party to participate in the May primary election, which is run by the state. Currently, the party runs its own elections during the summer. In the future, it will enjoy the same service from the state that Republican and Democratic parties do, with official ballots sent to members.
Second, it will require the Independent Party to nominate only its own members, rather than following its current system of nominating people who have also been nominated by the Republican or Democratic parties.
That rule goes against the party's mission, Independent Party Secretary Sal Peralta said, which was to open the election process to people who did not want to fit into just one box. He said it was meant to expand access to the political process and has never wanted to restrict nominations to only Independent Party members.
If the legislature doesn't change the members-only requirement in the future, the party plans to take the state to court as a violation of its First Amendment right to freedom of association, Peralta said.
The party would likely open up it primary elections to unaffiliated voters, he said.
Having three parties could make more legislative districts competitive, Peralta said. Currently, about 85 percent of districts are solidly blue or red, but having a third party could make for tighter, more meaningful races in some instances, he said.
Nationally, the idea of three major parties appears to be a popular one. A Sept. 2014 Gallup Poll found that 58 percent of United States adults supported having a third party. Just 35 percent said the two existing parties do an adequate job representing the American people.
In Oregon, about a third of voters do not belong to either the GOP or the Democratic Party.