More Evidence Against the Top Two Elections Scheme

Fewer people are voting in primaries, and they’re becoming less and less representative of the general population—so why give them all of the political power?

The Associated Press looks today at plummeting Primary Election turnout numbers, and while reporter JJ Cooper doesn’t link the facts to Measure 90, the data is another argument against the flawed “top two” elections proposal.

In Oregon, we had one of the lowest Primary turnouts on record this past May. At 36%, it was the absolute lowest since we implemented vote by mail in 2000. But here’s the thing: Primary turnout was down almost everywhere.

The backers of Measure 90 claim that their proposal will somehow magically increase voter participation, but the evidence strongly shows the opposite to be true.

California Turnout Washington Turnout

In California and Washington, which have both implemented “top two” elections in recent years, Primary turnout has continued to fall. California just had the lowest turnout in state history at less than 25% this past June. Washington’s Primary in August was the lowest in recent history for an even-year election, at around 30%. The “top two” elections system simply has not led to increased turnout or participation.

(In fact, according to researchers at the Public Policy Institute of California, “top two” elections do have the side-effect of driving down participation in races where both the top two candidates are from the same political party. No meaningful choices on the ballot = less reason to vote.)

But it’s not just a matter of fewer people participating. It’s a matter of who is participating. The Center for the Study of the American Electorate recently put out a study showing that Primary Election turnout nationwide has plummeted to about 15%. That’s abysmally low, but it’s not equally low among all voters.

Primary turnout among Democrats has fallen like a rock, but it’s fallen a lot less dramatically among Republicans.

From the Washington Post:

What’s perhaps most notable, though, is the partisan difference. Republican primary turnout overtook Democratic turnout for the first time in 2010, and that difference is even bigger this primary season.

In fact, GOP primary turnout has been pretty steady over the past four decades, but Democratic turnout has dropped consistently — including by about 30 percent this year, from 8.7 percent to 6.1 percent. That’s the biggest decline on-record.

Primary Turnout Nationwide

We also know that older voters make up a disproportionately large percentage of the Primary electorate. Data from the Census and Secretary of State show that Oregonians age 18-39 make up 38% of the adult population, but cast only 13% of the votes in the 2012 primary. Conversely, Oregonians age 60 and over accounted for 27% of Oregon’s adult population, but made up 58% of the voters in the 2012 primary election. Primary voters are also less diverse than the general public.

Here’s what that means for Measure 90: We know the “top two” won’t increase turnout, but it will give much more political power to the smaller and smaller number of Primary voters, who are older, whiter, and more Republican. These voters will be making the “top two” decisions for everyone else—including the very large number of people who vote in General Elections but not Primaries.

And if General Election voters don’t like the “top two” choices that older, whiter, more Republican voters make for them? Too bad. There are literally no other options available. Not even write-in candidates. So they can vote for one of two people who don’t represent them… or not vote at all.

From the AP:

Did voters sit out because there weren’t many high-profile races, something that’s naturally fixed in a general election? Or are they turned off from politics and uninterested in engaging?

The answer, and the likelihood that the campaigns can motivate people who agree with them, has implications in any of the races that have the potential to be close this November.

Those include ballot measures to legalize pot and label genetically engineered food; top-of-the-ticket races for governor and U.S. Senate; and especially the much lower profile state legislative races that will determine control of the state Capitol.

Indeed, turnout in November is much higher than in the Primary. But under a “top two” system, voters in the fall may be shocked and surprised to discover that their only two choices are not really choices at all.

2 Responses to “More Evidence Against the Top Two Elections Scheme”

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  2. Larry McD

    This item shows up on the Our Oregon newsletter immediately after yours:

    Will Oregon voters return after dismal primary?
    Associated Press
    “Oregon’s voter participation rate hit a near record low for the modern era in the May primary. That begs the question: Why? Did voters sit out because there weren’t many high-profile races, something that’s naturally fixed in a general election? Or are they turned off from politics and uninterested in engaging? The answer, and the likelihood that the campaigns can motivate people who agree with them, has implications in any of the races that have the potential to be close this November.”

    Reply
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All Right! Corporate Kicker Reform Pays Off

As much as $43 million possibly headed to schools due to Measure 85

When it comes to protecting our schools, it’s clear that elections matter.

In 2012, a large coalition of organizations came together to reform the corporate kicker tax law. The coalition gathered signatures to put Measure 85 on the ballot, which changed the law so that when the corporate kicker refund was triggered, the money would go to our K-12 classrooms, rather than the out-of-state corporations who got most of the kicker refund.

Bring Back P.E.Education advocates and other backers—including Our Oregon—argued that it was a bad idea to send tax revenues to profitable corporations while our schools were still suffering due to a lack of funding.

Oregon voters agreed: Measure 85 passed by a wide margin of 60% to 40%.

Well, yesterday, state economists released their latest Revenue Forecast, projecting that the corporate kicker could very well kick to the tune of $43 million.

Prior to Measure 85, those tens of millions of dollars would have largely gone to the out-of-state headquarters of some very large corporations. But under Measure 85, if there is in fact a corporate kicker triggered, that $43 million will go to Oregon’s K-12 schools instead.

That will come as wonderful news to parents, teachers, and students, who are still facing overcrowded classrooms and one of the shortest school years in the country.

Supporters of the Corporate Kicker for K-12 campaign should take a moment to celebrate. Our victory is a clear example of the power of grassroots campaigns to make Oregon a better place to live.

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Let’s Fix the Way We Give Away Tax Breaks to Big Corporations

Tuesday night, the Washington County Commission and the Hillsboro City Council approved a 30-year, $2 billion tax break for Intel in exchange for the company agreeing to bring $100 billion in new investment to the state.

Intel Tax Break HearingIt was the largest deal of its kind in Oregon history, and it hopefully means keeping thousands of Intel jobs here for years to come.

But the deal could’ve been better for our community, and there still are things we can and should do to make this deal and others like it better for our schools and for the working families who will hopefully get these jobs in the future.

Here are four simple things we should do right away to improve the process going forward:

1. Make the whole process more transparent and give the community a greater role.

In general, the public should have a greater opportunity to participate in these discussions. Tuesday night’s public hearing was important to have, but the deal was done and no testimony had a chance to really change that. When something like a $100 billion agreement is happening to a community, we deserve the chance to really participate and shape the bargain to make sure it meets the needs of the community.

The goal should always be to make our community stronger at the end of the deal than when we started. We can meet that goal, but only if the whole community is involved.

2. Clarify the Strategic Investment Program language so that deals can only be for one investment for no more than 15 years.

The Intel deal was the first of its kind to involve multiple SIP investments in one bargain. This locks in all of the agreements for 30 years even though it will involve multiple different SIPs. This is clearly allowable under state law, but it’s not advisable. These tax breaks are massive, and the community deserves a chance to review each one to make sure that the deals are right for our community.

3. Put school money in a lock box.

This Intel SIP bargain leaves school kids empty handed. The way the deal is structured takes millions each year away from schools. If the deal treated schools fairly, classrooms would receive $4 million more per year from taxes and an additional $14-15 million more in income taxes. Instead, the bargain cuts out nearly $20 million from schools annually. Ask any parent: Our schools need those resources. We should change the rules to make sure that school kids are getting their fair share when any tax deal is struck.

4. End Gain Share.

Tuesday night’s testimony reminded me that one thing is definitely true: It’s time to end the controversial Gain Share program. Gain Share takes income dollars from the state budget and gives them to local governments that sign tax break deals. The idea is to replace dollars at the local level for needed infrastructure, but there often is no need. At the hearing Tuesday night, a number of commissioners made it clear that because this Intel agreement promises no new jobs, there were no new infrastructure needs. That’s why, they argued, schools were cut out.

If there’s no new infrastructure, then there should be no need for Gain Share. This program cost school kids, public safety, and health care services nearly $40 million in 2013-14, and the costs with this new deal are only going up.

The good news is that even though this deal is done, we can change the tax break laws we have now so the impact of this deal and others are muted right away. Gain Share isn’t a permanent program; the Legislature can change it. We can pass a law to protect school dollars right away, and it will be effective immediately, even on this Intel deal. We can add in more community involvement in the decision-making right now, and it will also apply for the investments Intel plans to make in the future.

This Intel SIP bargain is a good wake up call: We need to act now to build our community for the future.

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