The Independent Party of Oregon (IPO) is Oregon's third-largest political party.
The party began as an independent voter movement in 2005 when the state legislature doubled the number of signatures needed to qualify by petition for public office and replaced the word “independent” with “non-affiliated” as a descriptor on the ballot for such candidates. These laws were pushed in response to Ralph Nader’s attempt to qualify for the Oregon ballot in 2004, and to prevent a widely anticipated independent gubernatorial bid from State Senator Ben Westlund.
The people who formed the Independent Party of Oregon testified against those measures. After failing to stop the legislation from passing, they organized the collection of 30,000 signatures in 2006 to form the Independent Party of Oregon, which was first recognized as a ballot qualified minor party by the secretary of state in January 2007.
The original intent was to provide ballot access for candidates and legal standing in case the legislature decided to attack the ballot access of Oregon’s minor parties. The party's growth was unexpected. Although Oregon has relatively open laws for the formation and maintenance of minor parties, and despite the fact that the state has a relatively large number of functioning small minor parties (Libertarian, Pacific Green, Constitution, Working Families, Progressive), none of these parties has ever grown larger than 20,000 members, and the current largest minor party (aside from IPO) has around 18,000 members.
The Independent Party has bucked that trend. In 11 years, the IPO has grown to 124,000 members — more than double the growth of Oregon Democrats and Republicans combined during that same period.
This rapid growth was primarily driven by voter frustration and the fact that an “Independent Party” now existed in Oregon. According to recent polling, only one-third of Oregon voters feel well represented by the Democrats and Republicans compared with 40 percent who believe a third party is needed.
After years of claiming that “almost no” IPO members joined purposefully, in May 2015 the House Democrats released a poll that showed 22 percent of Independent Party members believed themselves to be registered non-affiliated. More than half surveyed in the poll identified themselves as Independent Party members without prompting.
The Independent Party released its own poll a month later showing that 11 percent of Oregon voters identify as Independent Party members, even though the party’s actual membership is only 5 percent of registered voters, that 22 percent of voters would consider joining the party and a total of 80 percent would join or consider voting for Independent Party candidates.
The rapid growth of the party was not fueled by massive voter registration efforts, but initially because voters want an Independent Party, and later because the party has established a public interest brand and policies that are intended to reflect the rationally bounded majority opinion of Oregon voters,
After nominating candidates by caucus in 2008, in 2010 the IPO financed its own statewide primary and opened it to any candidate who chose to seek the party’s nomination. In 2009, the party worked to pass a “fusion voting” law that allowed candidates who received more than one nomination to list up to three of those nominations on the general election ballot.
This resulted in a large number of Democratic and Republican candidates, especially incumbents, seeking the party’s nomination, particularly for state legislative office. and especially in the most competitive districts.
From 2010 to 2014, as a minor party, the IPO conducted three binding statewide primary elections using the Internet to deliver ballots. It was the first political party in Oregon to conduct primary elections at its own expense, and the first political party in the United States to conduct a binding multi-jurisdiction statewide election using the Internet to deliver individualized ballots. In 2011, it became the first third party in the country to host a congressional debate televised on a network affiliate in a major metropolitan market (Bonamici vs Cornilles).
During that period, major party candidates in the most contested state races including governor, secretary of state, and competitive state legislative races sought the IPO nomination.
In 2016, IPO was recognized as a "Major Party", and had its primary elections conducted by the state of Oregon in 2016 and 2018. The party has dropped back to minor party status for the 2020 election.
Although IPO has consistently led all third parties in running its own candidates for public office, the presence of these candidates has generated far less interest or attention from the press than candidates of statewide significance who have been cross-nominated by the party.
Allowing candidates of other parties, including Democratic and Republican officeholders, on the IPO ballot has greatly raised the visibility of the party on a statewide basis and resulted in significant amounts of resources being spent by Democrats and Republicans seeking the IPO nomination as a way to broaden their appeal. Currently, more than 60 Oregon legislators are cross-nominees of the party.
In conducting its elections, IPO uses a series of preference surveys to determine the party’s platform and agenda. Since 2010, the party has conducted two to three preference surveys during each two-year election cycle that ask members to weigh in on of issues that they would like the party to prioritize.
The party's uses public survey data is intended to ensure that the party’s core issues enjoy broad support among the general electorate. IPO began using public survey data to determine policy priorities was institutionalized after the release of a 2014 survey indicating that the general public has very little influence over policy outcomes relative to an unrepresentative coalition of special interests and economic elites (Gilens, et al 2014 APSA).
IPO’s method of determining priorities is designed to align with the common-ground priorities of its members and the general public. The party’s approach seeks to “scratch the itch” of unmet need among voters who do not feel heard and encourages better policies that meet public interest needs.
The officers of the party would like to encourage others in the independent movement to consider the efficacy of forming “independent parties” in places where that is possible around the country. More importantly, we encourage the leaders of such parties to use data-driven models, such as member preference surveys, public surveys and peer-reviewed research to establish the platforms and agendas.
In many places like Oregon, independents forming their own political parties can be used to eliminate barriers to those seeking public office. it can also be a tool for making our government more responsive to independent voters and to the general public.
One of the core sources of dissatisfaction that voters have with the dominant parties — the reason they are now finally open to “independent” and third party alternatives — is that they are not responsive enough to the desires of the general public.
Let’s take advantage of this historical moment and bring rationality and the public interest back to the fore of our political process and do it in a way that helps to build an independent movement that reflects the will of the people and provides candidates with a path to win public office.
SAMPLING OF PRESS COVERAGE (HISTORICAL):
Independent Party may gain major party status – 2015 Portland Tribune
Oregon is better than anywhere else… – Rachel Maddow 2015 – Maddow discusses weird news from Oregon, including IPO hitting major party status.
Independent Party of Oregon to have open primary – AP/Statesman-Journal – Discusses that IPO will open election to non-affiliated voters.
Former Secretaries of State Slam Attempt to Kill Independent Party – Willamette Week, 2011 – Discusses Democratic “IPO death penalty bill”, an attempt to force IPO to change its name or be disbanded.
Bonamici, Cornilles debate job creation – KATU, 2011 – KATU’s coverage on the televised Congressional special-election debate, co-hosted by the Independent Party of Oregon and televised on Portland network television.
An Experimental Primary – Register-Guard, 2010 – Eugene Register Guard editorial board discusses historic IPO primary election.
Oregon’s Independent Party on cusp of power, identity crisis – Oregonian, 2010 – Discusses emergence of IPO.
How Would Fusion Voting Change Oregon Politics – Oregonian, 2009 – Discusses possible consequences of the fusion voting law that I helped to pass in 2009.
A Party Born of Outrage – OPB, 2007 – discusses how IPO was formed in response to Democrats and Republicans trying to make it harder to run for office as an independent and removing the word “independent” from the ballot in response to Ralph Nader’s Presidential campaign and Ben Westlund’s rumoured independent run for governor.