Save Oregon's Democracy
Vote NO on Measure 90

Washington State shows "top two" failures

Top two did not increase voter turnout

The Top Two did NOT increase voter turnout in WA, when you compare similar elections. Comparing a presidential election to a mid-term election turnout is disingenuous. The 2008 Primary voter turnout (42%) was larger than the 2006 Primary (39%), BUT LESS than the 2004 Primary (45%). The actual figures were for 2008: 1,455,507 voted; 42.6% voter turnout, and 2004: 1,480,247 voted; 45.1% voter turnout.

Every minor party nomination was a two-person race already

In touring the state in my Secretary of State campaign, it's natural that every interviewer asks me about Measure 65. The one question that everybody asks, though, isn't whether or not Measure 65 is better than what we have now (which it isn't). They ask me instead about my hope under the new system that my party could get in the top two where we wouldn't have to worry about vote splitting.

First, minor parties don't have any chance of getting in the top two in statewide elections (Note: 1% in statewide races is how we maintain ballot status). It didn't happen in Washington and it didn't happen in Louisiana or even in California. Once in a blue moon somebody gets in the top two who isn't a Republican or a Democrat under the top two system. How often? It's exceedingly rare. Only once in about 1400 races did that happen before this year. Now that Washington's results are in, proponents say, "but look, the Northwest is different, five candidates who were in a minor party or independent made it into the top two!"

There are at least two problems with this thinking. The first problem is thinking that we never get into the top two currently. In fact, because districts are well-gerrymandered in Oregon, Republicans only bothered to put up 37 out of 60 seats in the State House this year. If you add in the seats that the Democrats didn't field a candidate and count the Senate, it turns out that the majority of seats in this election, in Oregon, were unopposed by one of the other major party. As a third party, we had wide-open non-spoiled access to most races in Oregon. We leveraged our access to the general election in the Fourth Congressional District, the First Congressional District, Attorney General, and the 42nd Oregon State House District. In fact, we have more candidates at the State-wide and federal level than the Republicans in Oregon.

The second problem with the thinking that we might somehow be better off under "top two" if we got into the "top two" in the general election is that it just doesn't happen with any regularity, and when it does happen it's a special circumstance. We were told before, five candidates from a minor party or an independent got through to the top two in Washington. Well, let's just look at these five races in detail to see how common it really is:

Legislative District 37
State Representative Pos. 2
D 89%
L 11%
Legislative District 40
State Representative Pos. 2
(San Juan, Skagit*, Whatcom*)
D 80%
G 20%
Legislative District 3
State Senator
D 76%
N 24%
Legislative District 49
State Representative Pos. 2
D 64%
I 36%
Legislative District 38
State Representative Pos. 1
D 58%
N 42%

You'll note that in every case where a minor party or an independent made the top two, THERE WERE ONLY TWO IN THE RACE TO BEGIN WITH. If that happened under the existing system, we would already be in the same position: in the general election facing off as a top-two candidate, by definition.

Even though this is just as likely regardless of the party, they are all against Democrats in heavily Democratic districts. Now here's the crucial point: The Republicans could have run a candidate, any candidate, and third parties would have been kept out of the debate. The Libertarians should be particularly concerned, as they didn't get any opportunity to challenge a Republican.

In addition, it's important to note that in 3/5 of the cases, the Dems could have run two candidates as well with no worries, as they had a combined 2/3 of the vote, making them immune from vote splitting. In the other two cases, the Republicans could have run, but moreover neither of those two were from minor parties. Instead they were independent or non-affiliated voters (there is no organized Independent Party of Washington unlike in Oregon). Furthermore, those two were from two suburban areas (Snohomish an Clark counties that I know particularly well -- they are the two places in Washington State where I have a number of family members). A bona-fide Republican would have easily beaten those two independents if one entered the race.

You can bet that next time around, the two parties will remember to run somebody, anybody, even if in name only to ensure that the two party system continues intact indefinitely.

Also note that when two candidates from a major party run, if a third party candidate runs, the third party vote is suppressed because people want to be able to "pick from the winners", not support the third party, regardless if there are two of the same party or two different parties. Add spoilers and ringers and people react strategically, particularly when their party tells them how to vote.

Just looking at the raw numbers for the Green Party is enlightening. We're in four "two-party" races against another Democrat without a Republican in Oregon. Three of those seats are federal or statewide races! In Washington, the Greens succeeded some, but only in one tiny State Rep seat in the San Juan Islands, no seats statewide.

Again, in each of the above five "top two" cases, the general will be no different than the primary, and the general if they were under Oregon's existing system would have the same result anyways. We can thus clearly see that "top two" is definitely no help to third parties, but is statistically worse, and additionally leaves open simple strategies to lock third parties out forever, as has happened in Louisiana.

The ill-effects are diverse and numerous

One of the effects that the proponents seem to think is desirable is that one party will often be promoted to the general election with two candidates, despite the fact that less than half the voters made this decision on behalf of the rest of the voters who will participate in the general election. Primaries exist to select the strongest candidate from each party already.

Legislative District 46
State Representative Pos. 1
D 36%
R 15%
D 49%

Here's an example where one Republican couldn't beat out two Democrats:

Legislative District 36
State Representative Pos. 1
D 40%
R 15%
D 45%

And here's another example. Who's to say the Republicans didn't cross over and pick which Democrat they'd rather have thinking their Republican would make the top two? We'll never know! It's just a strategy guess in these small races, and with no way to rank candidates, that information isn't available.

Legislative District 27
State Representative Pos. 1
R 8%
R 18.08%
D 26.23%
D 47.07%

Here the Republicans have their vote split, and they would have made the top two with just one candidate running. Instead two democrats go on to compete in the general, leaving out 26.7% of the populace that would have defeat a Democrat with 26.23% of the populace. That's not democracy.

Legislative District 22
State Senator
D 76%
D 24%

Here we have an example where the general election will just be a re-run of the primary -- among two Democrats. Welcome to Soviet Russia!

Legislative District 20
State Senator
(Lewis, Thurston*)
R 40%
R 20% Neal
R 13% Ted
D 26%

Here three Republicans prevent people from seeing two Republicans like they "should have". The one Democrat pulls in only 26.54% of the vote in a four-way race. Republican challengers Neal and Ted combined could have pulled in 33.22% of the vote against an incumbent Republican as they represent dissatisfaction with the incumbent Republican (who in our system would be the "endorsed" Republican). We can see spoilers and ringers are a fact of life.

Legislative District 14
State Representative Pos. 1
R 3%
R 22%
R 14%
R 6%
R 12%
R 13%
D 30%

Here the sole Democrat gets 30.01% of the vote, and no Republican beats that, but there are 6 Republicans in the race. Could have easily been two Republicans there but for ringers.

Legislative District 10
State Senator
(Island, Skagit*, Snohomish*)
A 5%
R 42%
D 53%

Here's an example of a third party kept out of the general election.

Legislative District 9
State Representative Pos. 2
(Adams, Asotin, Franklin*, Garfield, Spokane*, Whitman)
G 6%
D 31%
R 63%

And another. This is supposed to be good for third parties? Whatever, Phil! Note that there are even more I don't point to.

Legislative District 8
State Representative Pos. 2
R 44%
R 56%

And again, a repeat of the primary but now with two Republicans in the race.

Legislative District 7
State Representative Pos. 1
(Ferry, Lincoln, Okanogan*, Pend Oreille, Spokane*, Stevens)
R 26%
R 27%
R 17%
R 14%
R 16%

Here we have five Republicans and no other party. The top two both have between 26 and 27% of the vote. Only 53% of the population got to pick who moved on to the general election. 47% didn't get any say, and that's just of people who voted in the primary, which is around half the voters. Effectively, 1/4 of the voters picked who went on to the top two for one to be rubber-stamped.


For those who care about numbers, eight races will be one-party races in November, D vs D, or R vs R. There will be two Democrats running in districts 11, 22, 27, 36, and 46. There will be two Republicans running in districts 7, 8, and 12.

You can see all the Washington election results for yourself.

As we've seen, the proponents of measure 65 cannot point to Washington and say it works better for anybody but Republicans and Democrats, and even then, it's not that good.

By Seth Woolley, Pacific Green