Harvey Platt's Op-ed in the Oregonian
A positive step away from partisanship Published: Wednesday, October 13, 2010, 7:00 AM Updated: Wednesday, October 13, 2010, 10:33 AM Guest Columnist
By Harvey Platt
Bob Packwood might be on to something.
Speaking to the Portland City Club last month, the former U.S. senator declared that all elections in Oregon should be nonpartisan and that voters will eventually grow tired of partisan bickering.
I think we're there now. I know I am.
Reports are that nearly 650,000 eligible Oregon residents are not registered to vote. Nationwide, voting numbers peaked in the 1960s and haven't reached those levels since.
One positive step toward inclusion would be establishing an "open primary" in Oregon, much like both California and Washington have recently enacted. The systematic exclusion of up to a third of independent eligible primary voters in our state is regrettable.
Packwood, and all Oregon voters, might also get behind a homegrown effort to find a solution to political disengagement called the Citizens' Initiative Review.
Sponsored by the nonpartisan nonprofit group Healthy Democracy Oregon, the CIR brought together panels of randomly selected Oregon voters to evaluate Measures 73 and 74. I had the pleasure of watching the process this summer in Salem.
Both panels of 24 voters were demographically representative of Oregon's voting population in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, party affiliation and likelihood of voting. Over two five-day periods in August, panelists heard from proponents and opponents of the measures, discussed the issues with background experts and, finally, evaluated the merits of the measures.
Those evaluations are now available for all to read as "Citizens' Statements" in the official Oregon Voters Guide published by the secretary of state.
Why should this information be useful? Because ballot measures are often complex issues that have significant financial and social implications for our state. Campaigns and interest groups spend tens of millions on flashy print ads and blaring commercials in an attempt to influence with sound bites, but not necessarily inform.
Conversely, the Citizens' Statements are written by an informed microcosm of Oregon voters, not politicians or pitchmen. It's the opposite of the dumbing down of voters we have seen in recent years.
The Citizens Initiative Review provides a forum for citizens to discuss the issues in a deliberate and active manner and reach their own conclusions. You might say it's a throwback to the old town hall meetings, the days when more seemed possible with public deliberation.
I think Bob Packwood, and all Oregonians, will appreciate the work of the Citizens' Initiative Reviews. Clear-headed, informed, factual analysis of ballot measures -- without the political spin we're so tired of -- isn't that what we need right now?
Unfortunately, the Open Primary will take a while to wind it's way through the baffling and frustrating legislative process.
In the meantime, by turning down the volume, the inflamed rhetoric and partisan bickering, maybe we can convince some of those 650,000 eligible residents to register and vote. And maybe those who are registered but are considering not participating this election cycle will be convinced to fill out their ballots after all.
Look for the Citizens' Statements in the Oregon Voters Guide and decide for yourself.
Harvey Platt is chairman of Platt Electric Supply.
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