By Nigel Duara Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. — It would be a first for Oregon: The state’s largest minor party says it’s going to conduct an online-only primary this summer.
Linda Williams, founder of the Independent Party of Oregon, said Wednesday the primary will begin sometime in July and last for two weeks.
“We are trying to make a difference in a systemic way in Oregon,” she said.
Oregon secretary of state’s spokesman Don Hamilton confirms the state has not previously had an online-only primary.
The Independent Party has grown from 359 registered voters in February 2007 to a reported 54,920 in May, the most recent month for which statistics are available from the secretary of state’s office.
By comparison, Oregon has 863,700 registered Democrats and 658,023 Republicans.
Hoping to tap into the fledgling party’s potential, 77 candidates — 39 Democrats, 32 Republicans, five Independents and one Libertarian — have said they also will seek the nomination of the Independent Party. They include Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Kitzhaber.
A bill passed by the state Legislature last year allows candidates to run under more than one party banner. So-called “fusion voting” allows candidates to get the nominations of as many as three parties.
That bill also changed the definition of voters who didn’t claim a party from “independent” to “nonaffiliated,” and the Independent Party of Oregon claimed the mantle.
The Independent Party is growing rapidly because voters can’t tell the difference between deciding to be independent of any party and picking the Independent Party, Oregon State University political science Professor Bill Lunch said.
“It’s clear that a very, very large fraction — I’d say about 90 percent — of the members of the Independent Party thought they were registering as an independent, small ‘i,’” Lunch said.
Williams said she’s “not going to get into a guessing game” about how many people know they’re members of the Independent Party.
“That’s the whole point of a primary election, to reach a core of interested voters,” Williams said. “My guess, the professor’s guess, I think we’re going to know a lot more in a couple of months.”
Party members will receive an identification number in the mail, which they’ll use to log in and vote.
Williams declined to say how much money the party needs to conduct the online primary, but said organizers don’t have it all yet. She said party money and personal loans will be used to help cover the costs.
The Independent Party professes not to have its own ideology. Williams described it as a “protest party” that seeks to take money out of politics and restore faith in the political system.
Earlier this year, the Oregon Department of Justice launched an investigation into the party after a member of its governing body was recorded in phone calls saying candidates need to donate to the party if they want to take part in its nominating process.
Sal Peralta, the person who was recorded, later said he misspoke. Williams wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Kate Brown that the request for donations was to cover the cost of the primary.
State Attorney General John Kroger decided not to prosecute but Brown issued a cease-and-desist letter that directed the party not to link nominations in its primary to donations. The party complied but disputed the characterization that it did anything wrong.