SALEM — The Independent Party of Oregon is quickly learning that becoming a major political party at times means getting creative.
The party, which reached major-party status last year after gaining 5 percent of all registered voters, just underwent its first state-run primary election, which didn’t go entirely as party leaders would have liked.
Party leaders wanted to list all presidential candidates on the party’s ballot, which was the only major-party primary open to all voters. When Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins declined to list those candidates, noting they belonged to other parties, Independent leaders asked Atkins to list no candidates for president.
Instead, the Independent ballot included only a write-in option for president, meaning voters could write in anyone, leading to the likelihood that Republican Donald Trump or Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders would win the party’s nomination.
Now, regardless of the write-in outcome when the state finishes counting next week, the party will hold a second nominating process that will determine which presidential candidate will appear on the November ballot with the Independent Party of Oregon nomination.
“I think what (state elections officials) were trying to do was limit public interest in our ballot,” said Sal Peralta, who as Independent Party secretary is one of its few core leaders. “This whole thing with the presidential ballot was a little frustrating. … We didn’t think they even should have printed the line on the ballot.”
After holding its inaugural major-party primary, party leaders may ignore the results and administer an online member survey to officially pick which presidential candidate they’d like to be listed as the Independent candidate on the November ballot, a move that, while rare, is apparently allowed under Oregon election law.
“I would just say as you’re thinking about this, how do the Democrats do it? How do the Republicans do it?” Peralta said. “Bernie Sanders won the Oregon primary; does that make him the nominee? It doesn’t.”
Peralta says the party is holding the follow-up nominating survey because it will more accurately reflect how its voters feel about the remaining candidates from all parties.
“In our case, what we’re doing is we are protesting the fact that the secretary of state refused to place any candidates on our ballot,” he said.
Oregon has what the state Department of Justice considers “limited regulation of major political parties” under election laws. So while Trump, Clinton or Sanders could win the Independent primary write-in contest when the state certifies election results next week, the party is free under its rules to toss those results and let members pick a new winner who would appear on the general election ballot as an Independent Party of Oregon candidate.
“The general policy to stay out of political party affairs is consistent with case law on the protected rights of freedom of association,” Karen Clevering, assistant attorney general, wrote in an opinion for Atkins. “To interfere with party rules, the state is required to show it has a compelling interest to justify the intrusion upon the associational freedom of the party.”
Clevering wrote that Atkins could apparently only intervene if the party’s nominating process interfered with the state’s ability to run the primary election, which she said it didn’t.
The few regulations that apply only prevent the party from nominating any candidate who makes an unsuccessful bid for a major-party nomination.
The so-called “sore-loser law” would prevent Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who dropped out of the Republican contest in May, from receiving the Independent Party nomination and appearing on the November ballot in Oregon.
But aside from that, “The IPO may nominate a candidate who is also a nominee of another major political party, provided that the candidate accepts that nomination,” Clevering wrote in the April 18 memo.
Because the party updated its bylaws in March — after receiving an unfavorable ruling from Atkins on the presidential contest — the party will now hold its nominating survey over two weeks in July using preferential voting.
The ballot will allow registered Independents or those unaffiliated with a party to pick from a list of all active candidates — including Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, along with Trump, Sanders and Clinton.
Voters can pick multiple candidates on the ballot in order of preference, or they can choose a “none of the above” option.
The ballot will also be open to voters who joined the Independent Party after the May 17 primary election, meaning someone could potentially have voted for the Republican or Democratic nominees and now also the Independent nominee.
Oregon law allows parties to cross-nominate, meaning the winner of the Independent Party ballot could appear on the November ballot as the nominee for multiple parties.
— Reporter: 406-589-4347,