Four of Oregon's political parties have sent a joint letter to the Oregon Secretary of State attacking the Elections Division for bias and lack of transparency in sending a notice to non-affiliated voters about party registration.
The Pacific Green Party, Independent Party, Progressive Party and Constitution Party also allege that a request to examine the notice before it was sent to voters was refused without valid grounds. Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins is a long-time member of the Democratic Party.
DATE: April 18, 2016
CONTACT: Alan Zundel, [email protected], 541-510-8804
An open letter objecting to recent actions by the office of the Oregon Secretary of State:
As representatives of the Pacific Green Party, the Independent Party, the Oregon Progressive Party, and the Constitution Party, we strongly object to the recent actions of the Secretary of State’s office in sending non-affiliated voters a form and notice about registering with a political party that:
(A) was not preceded by rulemaking, as when the office adopted the absentee ballot and provisional ballot request forms (OAR 165-007-0035),
(B) failed to invite political parties to comment on the form and notice in advance,
(C) refused a political party’s request to review the form and notice in advance, and
(D) neglected to give the option of registering with one of Oregon’s several minor political parties fair and equal prominence.
The SOS’s office sent an email on March 15, 2016, informing political parties of the form and notice and stating the opinion of the office that “our independence as elections officials required us to prepare the contents of the notice independently of all political parties.”
We do not agree with this statement.
Rather, we believe the independence of elections officials requires them to insure that communications with voters about matters pertaining to party registration show no signs of intentionally or unintentionally favoring one or more parties over others. This can only be done by allowing all political parties equal opportunity to review such communications beforehand so that they can raise objections and have any problems addressed before voters are contacted.
That this even needs to be stated is appalling, given that the Secretary of State is an office elected in a partisan election, and the current Secretary has long been associated with a particular major party. The office should be bending over backward to assure that all political parties are allowed to review and raise objections to communications with voters on any matter of concern to parties. Even the perception that any party or parties are given favored treatment by the SOS should be scrupulously avoided.
The office’s short-sighted view of its own independence is particularly hard to excuse in light of their refusal to honor a request from the Independent Party to review the form and notice beforehand. Not only did this refusal violate the principle of transparency and public records law, it showed the depth of the office’s blindness to the importance of having a check on their own assumptions about how their communications with voters might be perceived by others.
As to the substance of the form and notice, we object to giving voters prominent instructions on how to register with the specifically named major parties while relegating all of Oregon’s minor parties to a brief and general comment at the close of the letter.
Instead, along with Option 1, “Do nothing,” Option 2, “Choose to vote in a major party’s Primary Election by joining that major party,” and Option 3, “Choose to Vote [sic] in the Independent Party’s Primary Election without changing your registration,” there should have been an Option 4: “Choose to register with one of Oregon’s minor political parties, where nominees to office are not chosen in the Primary Election.” And then follow with a list of those parties.
While we understand that the intent of the letter was to advise non-affiliated voters on how to participate in the upcoming primary elections, the office giving prominence to specific instructions on registering with a major party obviously gives the major parties an unfair advantage in increasing their voter registration numbers. Whether intentional or not, the failure of the SOS’s office to avoid the appearance of bias demonstrates why they should have solicited input from political parties instead of rebuffing it.
We have expressed our concerns to the SOS office and from their responses are still not satisfied that they understand or take seriously our objections.
Therefore we are releasing this open letter insisting, at a minimum, that the SOS:
- change any future communications with voters regarding party registration to give the option of registering with a minor party equal prominence to the option of registering with a major party, and
- install a process for giving all political parties an opportunity to review and object to any future communications with voters regarding matters that political parties would have a stake in.
Dr. Alan F. Zundel, Secretary, Pacific Green Party
Sal Peralta, Secretary, Independent Party of Oregon
David Delk, Chair, Oregon Progressive Party
Jack Alan Brown, Jr., Chairman, Constitution Party
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