SALEM - 2/10/2016 - The Independent Party of Oregon scored a major ally in the party's effort to protect ballot access for third parties in Oregon this week, when all twelve of Oregon's Senate Republicans sent a letter to Senate President Peter Courtney (D), asking him to take steps to ensure that the Independent Party and several of Oregon's minor parties would not lose ballot access as a result of the state's new "Motor Voter" law.
Small parties in Oregon are threatened by the passage of Oregon's new voter registration system, which is expected to add nearly 400,000, mostly non-affiliated voters into the system.
Because ballot access for Oregon political parties is based on their share of the overall electorate, several Oregon political parties including Independent, Working Families, Progressive and Constitution parties are threatened with losing ballot access. Under the previous system, 75 percent of voters joined a political party. Under the new system only 9 percent are joining political parties.
This shift is attributed to changes in how the state processes new voter registrations. Under the previous system, voters were allowed to select a political party at the Department of Motor Vehicles when they filled out a registration card. Under the new system voters are automatically enrolled without their knowledge as non-affiliated and must return a card within 21 days to either opt-out or be enrolled in a political party.
"This is really an emergency situation for the smaller political parties," said IPO Secretary, Sal Peralta. If we reset all of the counters for zero, no political party would qualify as a major political party in Oregon based on the numbers coming back, including the Democrats and Republicans. Every currently existing minor party would go away, except possibly the Libertarians."
Most immediately, the Progressive Party and Constitution Party are threatened with "extinction" (aka a loss of access to the general election ballot) since the new voters will be added to the system in 2016 immediately before the calculations are made to determine ballot access for 2018. The Independent Party would lose its status as Oregon's third "major party" and its candidates will not appear on primary ballots after 2016.
The Working Families Party. which does not run its own candidates, but instead cross nominates major party candidates, is the only party to receive a legislative fix to preserve its ballot access. The original motor voter legislation exempted minor parties of a certain size from the effects of Motor Voter but contained a drafting error.
To date, neither the Governor nor Democratic leaders in the Oregon legislature have committed to preserving ballot access for any political party other than the Oregon Working Families Party.
The Independent Party filed a petition on Change.Org at 5 pm on March 9th, asking Oregon's Democratic leadership not to kill Oregon's third parties.