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Final ballot for governor’s race faces Aug. 30 deadline

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Oregon Capital Bureau

The closing date to get on the general election ballot is rapidly approaching, with the Oregon secretary of state moving closer to the Aug. 30 deadline to qualify candidates for the Nov. 8 ballot.

The biggest question still to be settled: Will former Sen. Betsy Johnson qualify to run as an unaffiliated candidate for governor? The former Democratic state senator from Columbia County submitted petitions with over 48,000 signatures last week — twice the number needed to get a slot alongside Democrat Tina Kotek and Republican Christine Drazan in the race for governor.

Based on prior petition drives, Johnson would appear to have enough of a buffer to survive the verification process, which can strike invalid voters from the count.

Ben Morris, the spokesman for Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, said Tuesday that the high level of interest in Johnson’s attempt to become the second governor in state history elected without a major party affiliation means Fagan will give the media a heads up of when an announcement will be made prior to giving a thumbs up or thumbs down.

When might that be?

“I don’t have an update at this time,” Morris said.

But next Tuesday is also the deadline for the six minor parties to add candidates to the ballot, or to cross-nominate one of the other candidates to include their party line in November.

In 2018, Gov. Kate Brown was both the Democratic and Working Families Party candidate against the Republican candidate, former Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend. Candidates for the Independent, Constitution, Libertarian and Progressive parties were also on the general election ballot.

Brown beat Buehler by over 7% of the vote, a win she called “a slam dunk.” But along with Buehler receiving 43.65% of the vote, the four minor party candidates together totaled over 6% of the vote. Brown’s portion was 50.05% of all votes. Votes for someone other than Brown equaled about 49.95%.

Oregon does not have a runoff if a general election winner receives less than half of the vote. A similar minor party showing in 2022 could wreak havoc in a tight-three way race among major candidates.

There are currently eight political parties recognized by the Oregon Secretary of State, two major and six minor. Their candidate lists are supposed to be finalized by Aug. 30 as well.

But the largest bloc of voters belong to no party at all.

As of Aug. 2, there are 2,956,243 registered voters in Oregon, according to the secretary of state.

There are 1,017,662 non-affiliated voters in Oregon. They account for 34% of the electorate.

Democrats count 1,011,328 registered voters, 6,334 fewer than the non-affiliated.

Republicans have 729,535 registered voters, a sizeable 288,127 fewer than non-affiliated voters.

The two major parties held their primaries on May 17. Only party members could vote , with the highest office on a non-affiliated ballot being the non-partisan judges and the commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries.

With Brown unable to run again because of term limits, the primaries drew squadrons of hopefuls.

Republicans had 19 candidates for governor. Drazan, the former House minority leader from Canby, emerged from the pack with just under 23% of the vote — good enough for a plurality win.

Democrats chose from 14, with Kotek, the former house speaker from Portland, the overwhelming choice with 56% of the vote.

The closed primaries meant Kotek moved to the general election by winning 140,943 of 251,419 votes cast in the Democratic primary. The more contentious and fractured GOP race chose Drazan win with 84,259 votes out of 372,552 cast.

The two major party candidates won with small totals in low-turnout primaries limited to party members.

But in November, all 2.9 million registered voters receive the same statewide ballot regardless of party.

Since the primary, the ballot has filled up with new names — minor party candidates, write-ins and a few post-primary replacements of candidates who bowed out for various reasons.

While Johnson wants to run as an unaffiliated candidate, she is a rarity among non-affiliated voters. She resigned from the Senate and the Democratic Party last year to change her voter registration status.

Most non-affiliated voters are a result of the state’s “motor-voter” law that automatically registers people to vote when they get or renew a driver’s license or have other transactions with the state. They are sent a card in the mail afterward asking if they wish to register with a party. Most don’t return the card and are listed as non-affiliated voters with their county clerks’ offices.

The group is called non-affiliated because the more common term — independents — is part of the name of the Independent Party of Oregon, which dates to 2007.

The centrist Independent Party of Oregon is the largest of six state-recognized minor parties. It counts 137,790 registered voters.

In the 2018 election, Patrick Starnes of Brownsville was the Independent Party nominee until he announced late in the race that he was throwing his support to the incumbent Brown because of pledges she made on Starnes’ key issue, campaign finance reform. That caused a riff in Independent Party ranks, with others announcing their endorsement of the Republican challenger, former Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend.

In 2022, the Independent Party is “cross-nominating” candidates in a number of races, essentially endorsing other parties’ candidates and allowing them to carry the party’s identification as a second line on their ballot listing.

Oregon’s so-called “sore loser” law bars them from nominating a candidate defeated in a major party primary. But primary winners can carry the additional identification if cross-nominated by minor parties.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, was cross-nominated by the Independent Party and can appear as both Democrat and Independent on the ballot. In caucuses, the party has cross-nominated in over 50 congressional, state and local races. Its list favors Democrats, but includes a smattering of Republicans, including Sen. Bill Kennemer, R-Oregon City.

One race in which the Independent Party will not cross-nominate: governor.

Individual party leaders and members are free to voice their choice. But the Independent nomination line on the ballot won’t appear for Kotek, Drazan or Johnson.

“The IPO statement leaves open the possibility of individual endorsements,” said Independent Party board member Andrew Kaza of Redmond. “There is some history of this with differing viewpoints in previous (secretary of state) & Governor’s races. But no x-nom on this one.”

The numbers of members of each minor party drops off steeply after the Independent Party.

The Libertarian Party has 20,844 members backing its small-government, laissez-faire economic politics.

A trio of parties on the political left include the wage earned-oriented Working Families Party with 8,358 voters, environmentally-activist Pacific Green Party at 7,819 voters, and liberal-leaning Progressive Party with 3,223 voters.

On the political right is the Constitution Party with 3,842 members. It advocates for Bible-based beliefs and limits on the authority of government.

The registration totals leave another 15,842 voters, listed on the Secretary of State’s monthly tabulation as “other” – most likely active voters who registered with several parties once recognized by the state, but now officially defunct as far as state elections are concerned. These could include the Socialist, Peace, US Taxpayers, Reform, Natural Law and All People Count parties.

As of Tuesday, some minor party candidates are already making their way to the November ballot based on caucus nominating systems determined by the parties, but approved by the secretary of state.

In the governor’s race, naturopathic doctor Nathalie Paravicini of Portland is the Pacific Green nominee. The list will likely grow by Aug. 30.

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