A Closed Primary Might Mean a Loss for Bernie Sanders in a Bernie State


Oregon. It’s rumored to be the microbrewery capital — and, thus, the beer capital — of the world. It has some of the highest yoga studio density per capita in the country. It’s the birthplace of one of the best independent bookstores ever. (Seriously, Powell’s is amazing. I’ve been there.) Its cities are frequently tacked onto lists documenting the “most hipster” places to live, even though most Oregonians cringe at the term. And it’s one of the most liberal states in the country.

All in all, Oregon is heaven on Earth for millennials who love beards, Trader Joe’s, and progressive politics. The latter can be witnessed in action via the state’s stance on voter rights and registration: last year, Oregon began automatic registration to vote of all eligible persons who visit the state’s DMV. It also conducts all of its elections via mail, tackling voter accessibility head on. These proactive steps have significantly increased the number of registered voters by almost 70,000 people — not insignificant in a state of less than 4 million people — and increased the number of under-30 voters by 21%.

Considering all of these factors, Oregon seems like fertile ground for a Bernie Sanders win tonight in the state’s primary election. He has consistently polled better with young people, another distinct feature of many new Oregonians. And then there was the time he (unintentionally) put a bird on it! (If you’ve missed the joke, it’s from an episode of Portlandia, a show that satirically and accurately captures what it means to be young and white in Portland — including the city’s residents’ fondness for putting birds on things.) In a state full of would-be, wannabe, and actual young radicals, Bernie Sanders should run Oregon — in theory. But the tumultuous relationship between theory and practice is out to screw someone over once again, and this time it could very well be Sanders.

The discrepancy here is that despite its super liberal ideology on who should be qualified to vote, Oregon still runs closed primary elections. This means that only voters registered as Democrat or Republican are allowed to vote in the primaries, and only for those candidates in the running for that respective party’s nomination. 30% of Oregon’s voters are registered as independent or unaffiliated — because in Oregon, they seem to like both their clothes and their political affiliations androgynous. Many of these voters are most likely to support Sanders, but unfortunately they won’t be able to hit the polls today.

This election structure has proved to work against Sanders in previous primary elections — he’s relied heavily on independent voters for his gains in this election. In other states that bar independents from accessing the polls during the primaries, his opponent Hillary Clinton has been victorious — unsurprisingly, given her faithful following within the Democratic party.

Sanders is well aware of this disadvantage and has openly blamed closed primaries for his losses in other states. To his credit, the Sanders campaign spent months trying to get unaffiliated voters in Oregon to register as Democrats at college campuses — and, predictably, farmers’ markets — in order to prepare for today’s vote. And there is a chance that it may have paid off. The state’s party reported an increase in their numbers as a result of this effort. The Republican party has also noted a small bump in registrations during the presidential campaign season.

But given that all of his opponents have bowed out of the race, Donald Trump doesn’t have much to worry about either way. There’s still hope, though, that the new pledges to the House of Democrat may be able to steal a win for Sanders tonight. If not, the irony of Bernie Sanders losing in a state like Oregon isn’t lost on any of us.