SALEM — The Independent Party of Oregon is fighting a decision by Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins to force it to select a presidential nominee in the May primary through a write-in process.
With no declared candidates, party leaders had hoped to have more control over the process to select a presidential nominee for the November general election. Earlier this month, the party asked the secretary of state to either provide no option for its members to vote for a presidential nominee in May, or list “the well-known candidates who could legally earn the (Independent Party of Oregon) nomination,” according to the party’s press release.
Atkins found neither of those options to be legal.
The Independent Party on Thursday sent a memorandum to Atkins challenging her decision.
“It is a baseless legal conclusion, which (the Independent Party of Oregon) will appeal to the courts, if necessary,” the party wrote in a press release.
It is the Independent Party of Oregon’s first state-funded primary election since it gained major party status last year.
The secretary of state asked the Oregon Department of Justice to weigh in and in a March 15 opinion, Assistant Attorney General Amy Alpaugh wrote that under state law members of major parties — including the Independent Party of Oregon — are entitled to participate in the primary nomination process. Alpaugh also wrote that state law requires write-in spaces for all offices listed on a ballot, according to the Department of Justice opinion.
The Independent Party of Oregon had hoped the state would allow its members to cross-nominate Democratic and Republican candidates in the May primary, which could allow party members to nominate a candidate such as Hillary Clinton or Ted Cruz. Alpaugh wrote that is not allowed under Oregon law, which prevents a candidate who lost a primary election from running on another party’s ticket in the general election.
Molly Woon, communications director for Atkins, wrote in an email that the secretary of state was concerned the party’s rules appeared to give it “veto” power over the presidential candidate selected by voters.
“The Secretary feels strongly that voters expect that the candidate with the most votes on a primary ballot is the candidate that is forwarded to the November election,” Woon wrote in an email Thursday. “This is a well understood outcome of the democratic process. If the (Independent Party of Oregon) rules result in a different outcome, she is concerned about making sure voters are aware of this deviation from the norm.”
Independent Party leaders pointed out that Democratic and Republican party delegates select their presidential nominees at nominating conventions. Those nominees aren’t necessarily candidates who have won the Oregon primary.
Woon said the Independent Party of Oregon differs from the other major parties because of its party rules.
“The Republican and Democratic parties have a well-established national delegate selection process that is informed by the primary elections and is understood by those voting in the primaries,” Woon wrote in an email. “The (Independent Party of Oregon) has no delegate selection process or national party affiliation and proposes to use another model that not been used in Oregon and has not been evaluated by counsel. We have asked for further clarification from the (Independent Party of Oregon), which was received today.”
The Secretary of State’s Office is reviewing the information with its lawyer.
The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group. Hillary Borrud can be reached at 503-364-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.