AP - 4/20/2016 - Published in the Mail Tribune - Gearing up for its first state-run primary election next month, the Independent Party of Oregon got some clarity this week about how it'll be allowed to pick a presidential nominee.
Registered members of the IPO, which became Oregon's third major party last year, will pick their presidential candidate of choice through a write-in on their ballots, but whoever claims the most votes in the state's May 17 primary won't necessarily get the party's nominee. Instead, party leaders can have the final say, under certain parameters, the Oregon Department of Justice said Monday.
It won't affect the Republican or Democratic contests, which are restricted to voters registered in those perspective parties. But it's the first time in recent memory that Oregon's primary contest will have three major parties, and the IPO wanted more control over who it nominates, even when it doesn't have its own presidential candidate, as is the case this year.
"It's not aimed at being stuck with an unappetizing choice — it was aimed at the forces of the state to not interfere with the Independent Party in a manner that was totally discriminatory," said Linda Williams, IPO chair.
While state law says the person with the most votes gets nominated or wins, the DOJ said there's an exception for presidential nominations, which follows a separate process. Thus, Independent Party leaders don't have to nominate the presidential candidate with the most write-ins, the DOJ told the party in a memorandum.
The Oregon Secretary of State's office had expressed concerns about giving "veto power" to IPO leaders last month, suggesting it might be inconsistent with state election laws and asked the DOJ to weigh in.
"Now that the law is clear, the IPO is free to operate within the law," Laura Terrill, chief of staff to Secretary Jeanne Atkins, told The Associated Press. "Because of the potential for voter confusion, however, the Secretary has encouraged the IPO to make its process clear on their website or other places where the public can be informed."
IPO leaders can't pick just anyone — if Donald Trump, for instance, won the national GOP nomination, the IPO couldn't nominate Sen. Ted Cruz, the DOJ stated. And the party also needs the candidate's permission to be officially nominated.
Williams said Monday's memo was a victory for the IPO, saying it affords them the same rights as Republicans and Democrats who use delegates and superdelegates — not voters — to ultimately select presidential nominees.
"The pushback from us was, frankly, that that was unconstitutional and illegal," said Williams, referring to Atkins' previous position on the issue. "The state cannot step in and order a political party to put somebody as their nominee."
When official write-in results are posted by early June, Williams said the IPO will narrow its options, have members weigh in on their preferences through an online process and declare its nominee by the late August deadline.