Precinct Committeepersons – Oregon 2019 HB2491 Testimony

To: House Committee on Rules, Oregon Legislative Assembly

Re: Support for HB2491 with suggested amendment

HB2491 makes reasonable changes to how precinct committeepersons are elected to reduce election administration costs including:

  • Requiring write-in nomination filings up to poll closing time. 
  • Eliminating the sex requirement for precinctcommittee persons.

The measure also changes several references from “county clerk” to “county elections official” to reflect current titles.

Please recommend this measure for passage.

If you were to consider an amendment, I would suggest changing the word “electors” to “party members” in ORS 248.015(1).

As the Oregon Association of County Clerks has previously reported, more than half of precinct committeeperson positions are usually vacant. With automatic voter registration there are now over 2.7 million registered voters in Oregon. This currently results in around 11,000 precinct committeeperson positions for each major party statewide.

Malapportionment of precinct committeepersons by electors is contrary to the principle of one vote–one value, diluting the votes of many party members. With so many open positions, nearly all are self-appointed and almost none are contested.

Changing the apportionment of precinct committeepersons to party members would reduce the number of positions to about 3,900 for Democrats and 2,800 for Republicans. Apportioning by party members would make precinct representation within party organizations more accurately represent party membership in the electorate.

Oregon Campaign Contribution Limits

Limits on campaign contributions to candidates in Oregon could prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption, reduce the fundraising burden on candidates, curb the influence of wealthy interests, and boost public trust in elected officials.

However, limits set too high would be ineffective. And, low limits could make running an effective campaign difficult, unfairly benefit incumbents and self-financed candidates, as well as shift campaign funds to independent expenditures and ballot measures.

Introduced during the 2019 Session, SJR13SJR18, and HJR13 propose amendments to the Oregon Constitution that would allow enactment of laws limiting contributions to candidates. They differ in details, but none specify particular limits.

This open ended grant of authority to limit contributions is substantially similar to 2006 Measure 46 that failed 40%-to-60% and may face comparable criticisms. In the voters’ pamphlet, arguments in opposition focused on the curtailment of free speech protections, uniting interest groups from the left and the right. The introduced measures are all vulnerable to free speech concerns. SJR13, in particular, would attract this line of attack by amending Article I.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, ColoradoMissouri, and Nevada have specific limits on contributions to candidates in their constitutions.

Definite constitutional limits may be more politically feasible in Oregon because they would balance the interests of elected officials and voters. Elected officials won’t have to fear initiative legislation altering the limits and voters won’t have to be concerned that the Legislative Assembly would change the limits against their interests. All changes would have to go through the arduous process of a constitutional amendment.

Lane County Election Timing

What do you think of amending the Charter for Lane County so that the top-two county candidates always advance to the November election?

The current system of only advancing one candidate to the November election if a candidate receives a majority at the May election excludes many voters and is confusing.

What I’m proposing is the Board of County Commissioners refer a charter amendment to voters that would delete subsection (4) and part of subsection (5) of Section 27 of the charter:

(4) When a candidate for nomination for an elective county office receives a majority of all votes cast at the primary election, that person’s name alone shall appear on the ballot for the general election.
(5) If no candidate at the primary election receives a majority of all votes cast, t
The two candidates receiving the highest number of votes shall be placed on the general election ballot.

State law allows provisions of a home rule charter to change the way county officers are nominated and elected (ORS 249.008 and 249.091).

Since 2010, voter turnout in Lane County at May elections has been 33.7% lower on average than at November elections. Excluding a third of voters from choosing county officers when a candidate gets a majority in the May election is undemocratic.

(Blue = May Elections, Green = November Elections)

It’s also confusing to voters who are more aware of the state and federal systems of primary nominating elections. In fact, May ballots are labeled “Primary” at the top in large-font bold-face type. The detail that the primary ballot functions as a general ballot when one candidate gets a majority for county officers is not well known among voters.

This proposed charter amendment would further the public interest by giving more voters a voice in choosing county officers. It would also eliminate confusion by always making the final decision about county officers at the November election.

Placing the measure on the November 2020 ballot would give the large presidential general election voter turnout a chance to give themselves greater say in the election of county officers.

Small Donor Public Financing – Oregon Testimony

To: Senate Committee on Campaign Finance, Oregon Legislative Assembly

Re: Small Donor Public Financing Testimony

Public funding of campaigns can reduce candidates’ dependence on wealthy interests. However, small donor public financing–such as 2018 HB4076–raises some concerns: 

  1. Organized Groups: Bundling would tilt the political playing field away from ordinary voters toward organized groups that have the resources to deliver many qualifying small donations to candidates. Unlike the political contribution credit, there’s no overall limit on the matched amounts an individual can give to multiple candidates.
  2. Eligibility Criteria: 400 small donors for senators and 250 for representatives are tiny proportions compared to about 90,000 and 45,000 registered voters per senate and house district. Currently, the political contribution tax credit is more representative because it’s used by nearly 150,000 taxpayers, but even that is only a small percentage of the 2.7 million registered voters.
  3. Allocation Formula: Equal funding of candidates could foster polarization by subsidizing oversized platforms for extreme voices. Providing the same funding to incumbents and challengers disregards voter support and undermines the feasibility of legislative adoption.
  4. Waste: Furnishing uniform funding to candidates risks wasting tax dollars because some people will run for office simply to get state campaign money.

A simpler and more feasible approach to expanding public financing of campaigns would be to update the political contribution credit. It hasn’t been adjusted for inflation since 1987. Over the last 32 years, the credit has lost more than half of its value due to inflation. It should be adjusted for inflation and indexed.

The political contribution credit should also be made refundable to better fulfill its policy purpose “to encourage large numbers of people to contribute small amounts of money to political parties and candidates thereby encouraging participation in the political process” (LRO Tax Credit Review: 2019 Session, page 29).