Whether we call offices “partisan” is not the issue

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A group of Deschutes County residents is hoping to collect enough signatures to get an initiative on the ballot that, if passed by voters, would make the Deschutes County Commission nonpartisan.

➤ Read more at the Bulletin

This is one of those things that sounds reasonable but attempts to provide a solution without defining the problem.

What does this solve exactly?

A lot of unsupported assertions here and gauzy reckons about partisanship.

Better would be to add seats to the commission.

If the problem is that DCC had been captive to a two person “majority” of reckless partisans, well.. that’s true!

On losing reelection, Phil Henderson made a swift transition from commissioner to chairman of the local Republican Party where he promotes the Big Lie & other conspiracy theories.

If your goal is to avoid reckless partisans – and here’s where “both sides” does a little too much work – this plan doesn’t solve that. In fact, it helps them hide their affiliation as partisans! This could possibly make the partisan problem WORSE.

And, while a “nonpartisan” election is a nice principle, partisans will still organize. Only, without primaries, you get a clown car full of other candidates splitting votes. The most organized party & least split vote will win!

If one candidate benefits from a unifying rallying cry – like gun rights or taxes – they can vault ahead of an apathetic, technocratic opposition. 2 out of 3 commissioners are elected in a low turnout, off-year election. That hints at a possible solution!

If your goal is increasing participation, then hold your elections when people turn out!

Want a solution to the Deschutes County Commission problem? Add seats and put a majority on presidential year ballots!

#FACT: NAV turnout is on avg more than 15% higher in presidential years.

Adding seats dilutes the impact of an ideologue and – perhaps more importantly – better represents the community. It also reduces the value of each seat. Winning becomes less an existential crisis when the stakes are less dire. THAT reduces partisan intensity.

While participation is lower in closed primary elections (by definition), it’s also lower in nonpartisan races!

Turnout last year by race:

Nonpartisan race:

  • Bend City Council: 72%

Partisan races:

  • DCC: 81%
  • SD27: 82%
  • HD54: 80%

The dropoff often gets worse than that.

I understand NAV frustration about closed primaries. But that is a totally different – and much broader! – debate than the one about fixing DCC.

Again, what problem does this proposal solve?

Less partisanship SOUNDS nice, but this likely won’t achieve that.