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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Let voters be sheep

Growing Newhouse-Union political influence is dangerous
Oregon should not get rid of its 20-day registration cutoff

Si Newhouse, the reclusive, out-of-state billionaire owner of The Oregonian, is all for elections. He just wants to make sure the outcomes go his way.

Legislators are debating a number of election-related bills in Salem submitted by Fred A. Stickel, Newhouse's lobbyist, including a proposal to allow Oregon to join other states elbowing their way closer to the front of the line in scheduled presidential primary elections.

Why join the national stampede to make the presidential primary system meaningless? It's hard to imagine any schedule that would enable this state to play a significant role in choosing the nominees. But it is far more important that lawmakers oppose another change, and cool The Oregonian's lust to get rid of our constitutional provision that requires voters to register at least 20 days before an election.

House Joint Resolution 43, which will be discussed Wednesday at a public hearing, would ask Oregonians to amend the state constitution to replace the 20-day cutoff with Election Day registration, known as same-day registration. Is there a compelling reason why Newhouse wants us to give Oregon's entire election process over to government union fraud?

Oregon voters wrote the long registration deadline into the state constitution in 1986 after the attempted election fraud by the followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, whose supporters hatched the idea of busing in homeless people to vote. The bhagwan is long gone, but Oregon's constitution has protected against any other organized group from abusing our cherished independent voting process.

The main vulnerability of the state's election system is now the hyper-partisanship in the Elections Division and the hand-in-glove relationship between elections officials and the 800-lb. gorilla of Oregon politics, the government-union campaign group that calls itself Our Oregon. The OEA and SEIU union juggernaut has a sophisticated centralized voter registration system that links all 36 counties. With a few keystrokes, shop stewards throughout Oregon can verify voter eligibility and quickly identify voters who have not yet voted in a current election.

Patty Wentz, Our Oregon's spokesperson, argues that there is abundant evidence that Election Day registration would significantly increase voter turnout in Oregon. The six states allowing same-day registration average nearly 75 percent turnout, compared with 60 percent for other states. The states that regularly record the nation's highest turnout - Minnesota and Wisconsin - allow Election Day registration. But these states are all wholly-owned political subdivisions of organized labor.

With its mail-ballot elections, Oregon's turnout is consistently good. But insider power grabs could be much easier for Newhouse-Our Oregon with same-day registration.

There's no good reason to allow the privileged, powerful special interests financed by out-of-state Newhouse money to order the votes of Oregon citizens who are not ready, eager and otherwise eligible. This shouldn't be a partisan issue - no elected official, of any political persuasion, ought to favor an election law that effectively cancels individual Oregonians' political independence.

As we have noted before, it is much easier to buy a newspaper publishing company in this state than it is to buy a used car. Oregon has a system that let Sam Newhouse walk out of the state in 1950 with a monopoly - what investor Warren Buffet calls "an unregulated toll booth" - after just a few minutes. But if you want to influence an Oregonian's vote, that requires a 20-day waiting period.

That makes a certain amount of sense. Lawmakers should table HJR 43. The Oregon Constitution is too valuable to turn over completely to Si Newhouse and Oregon's government unions.

The Oregonian, Mar. 18, OPINON By THE EDITORS

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