- Associated Press - Monday, August 17, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Oregon now has a third major political party: Independent.

Secretary of State’s office announced on Monday the Independent Party of Oregon had 109,363 registered voters as of August, equaling more than 5 percent of the state’s registered voters. That’s the threshold for becoming a major party.

It means the Independent Party will be permitted to participate in the state’s May 2016 primary election.

The party also has decided to open the primary to non-affiliated voters. As of July, there are more than 530,000 non-affiliated voters registered in the state. Previously, only Republicans and Democrats could vote in the primaries.

The party will now be able to nominate candidates in all partisan contests, including those for governor, secretary of state, U.S. senator, U.S. representative, and county commissioner, in counties where commissioners are elected on a partisan basis.

“Oregonians will have more choices for electing people to partisan office. And hundreds of thousands of voters will be able to vote for candidates in the Oregon primary,” said party co-chair Dan Meek.

The Independent Party of Oregon was established less than a decade ago and quickly surged past other minor parties in membership. But, unlike conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, it has lacked a clear philosophy or platform. The party surveys its members annually to learn what its priorities will become.

According to the latest survey, supporters have shown a strong preference for requiring political ads to identify their funding sources, increasing vocational training opportunities for high school and college students, establishing limits on political campaign contributions, protecting farmland and labeling genetically modified foods.

There’s been talk that the confusing name is what’s driving the rapid gains. In Oregon, voters who don’t want to align with a party are supposed to register as non-affiliated. The assumption is that some voters who consider themselves independent and are tired of partisan politics are accidentally joining the Independent Party.

“I think people want to be part of a party of independent voters, which is a little different from saying they just want to be an Independent,” said Richard Winger, a ballot access activist who publishes Ballot Access News.

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