Oregon Top Two Elections, Measure 65 (2008)

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Oregon Top Two Elections, Measure 65 was on the November 4, 2008 ballot in Oregon as a citizen initiated state statute in. It was defeated.

If it had passed, it would have brought top two primary elections to voters, where all candidates for an office would compete against each other regardless of party, and the two candidates with the most votes would then advance to the general election.[1] Hence, the initiative was also known as the "top two" initiative.[2]

Election results

Measure 65
Defeatedd No1,070,58065.94%
Yes 553,640 34.06%
Election results from Oregon Secretary of State

Text of measure

Ballot title

The official ballot title for Measure 65 was:

Changes General Election Nomination Processes for Major/Minor Party, Independent Candidates for Most Partisan Offices[3][4]

Full text

The full text of the act proposed by Measure 65 is available here.

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This initiative's supporters tried unsuccessfully to put a similar measure on the ballot in 2006, and to pass another version through the state legislature in 2008.

Current system and 65's proposals

Prior to 1904, Oregon voters relied on party conventions to nominate their candidates. In 1904, the practice of casting ballots in primaries was instituted.[5]

The reform proposed in Measure 65 was not a Montana-style open primary, but what is known as a Top Two or Louisiana-style "Jungle" Primary.[6]

The statute would have allowed independent voters to vote in the primary elections for US Senator, US Representative, Governor, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, Attorney General, state Senator or state Representative, and any other local partisan office. It would not have applied to presidential elections.



The initiative was proposed by former Oregon Secretaries of State Phil Keisling, a Democrat, and Norma Paulus, a Republican.

Endorsers included former Governor John Kitzhaber, former Secretary of State Norma Paulus, State Senators Avel Gordly and Ben Westlund.

Measure 65 was also supported by Associated Oregon Industries, the Oregon Business Association and the Oregon Business Council.

Arguments in favor

Supporters of Measure 65 gave the following reasons for voting "yes":

  • It eliminates the fundamental unfairness of having primary elections that exclude non-affiliated voters, and members of minor parties.
  • One in four general election legislative races in 2006 were decided with a 70% or more majority.
  • The existing election system fails to produce competitive races, so the races are largely decided in primaries that exclude 25% of registered voters.
  • Leading proponent Keisling says, "Measure 65 speaks to the heart of an Oregon value. It is an independence of mind and spirit that wants us to vote for the best person and get the best person in office, regardless of party registration."


Supporters of Measure 65 raised $390,329 through late October.[7]

Newspaper endorsements

The Willamette Week endorsed 65, saying "we’re willing to give 65 a try because the current system is broken."[8]

See also: Endorsements of Oregon ballot measures.

Analysis of loss

Leading supporter Phil Keisling did some public opinion research after the November loss. In February 2009, he said that these research indicates that Measure 65's ballot title is at least partly responsible for the loss.[9]

In support of his view, he said that 50% of those polled would have supported Measure 65 if it had been described on the ballot like this:

"Changes election system for most state offices. All candidates would compete in May primary election. All voters could participate and select candidates regardless of their own, or candidates' party registration. The top two vote getters in each race--again, regardless of party--would then advance to the November election."

instead of the way it was described on the ballot:

"Changes general election nomination process for major or minor party and independent candidates for most partisan offices."



The Top Two Primary was opposed by the Democratic Party, Libertarian Party, Republican Party, and Pacific Green Party. It was also opposed by the state's four biggest unions, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFSCME and the Oregon Education Association.

Arguments against

Arguments made against the measure included:

  • Marc Siegel, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Oregon, said, "Open primary is a misnomer. It disqualifies participation more than it opens it."[10]
  • Dan Meek of the Independent Party of Oregon believed that Measure 65 would have destroyed minor parties in Oregon, reduced voter choices, confused the ballots, encouraged dirty politicking, prevented fair and democratic endorsements, and not elected moderate candidates anyway.[11]
  • The Pacific Green Party of Oregon believed that Measure 65 would have relegated it to rarely appear in the General Election. They based this on Richard Winger's Ballot Access News, where it had been written that 1 in about 1400 previous races had a third party candidate appear in previous elections[12][13]. Seth Woolley, Secretary of the Pacific Green Party, believed that the Top Two system works to encode the two-party system directly into the election system and cited the fact that Oregon still had Ranked Voting in its Constitution, as a better alternative[14].
  • Oregonians Against Unfair Elections had submitted ballot statements in opposition, including a joint statement against Measure 65 signed by co-chairs of most of the parties in Oregon, including the Democrats, Libertarians, Republicans, and Pacific Greens.

Donors against Measure 65

Opponents of Measure 65 raised $265,750 in opposition through late October. $100,000 of this was from the Oregon Education Association.[7][15]

OEA implies Measure 65 backed by Sizemore

The Oregon Education Association was opposed to Measure 65. In late October, the group sent a mailing to its members that appeared to assert that Measure 65 was associated with Bill Sizemore. Supporters of Measure 65 responded immediately, saying, "The ad, paid for by the OEA and brought to our attention by an outraged teacher, claims Bill Sizemore is the author and lead proponent of the Open Primary/Measure 65.... Linking us to Sizemore is blatantly false, cynical, and offensive. I can’t believe OEA’s political bosses are so afraid of losing power that they would knowingly lie and mislead their own members."[16][17][18]

Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, said, "There are plenty of things the OEA could say that would be legitimate. They don't have to stoop to lying. How do you have any credibility if you have to win that way? It gets me down that we're stooping to the same things we decried in the Newt Gingrich era."[15]

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