Earlier this month, the Arizona Open Government Committee officially launched its campaign to bring a top-two style open primary system to the Grand Canyon State by ballot initiative in next year’s elections . . .The organization may find a fair amount of support among Arizona Independents, who now outnumber Democrats in the state and are steadily gaining on Republicans. From last month at AZIVN:
The new system would be implemented for all partisan elections except those for President and Vice President of the United States. The proposed amendment would guarantee that all qualified voters have an “unrestricted right” to vote for the candidate of their choice. Under the current system, Republicans cannot vote for Democratic primary candidates and vice versa.
“No longer will primary elections exist in which Democrats are limited to just choosing among Democratic candidates and Republican voters cast ballots just for Republican candidates, while Independent voters are largely left out altogether,” stated former Republican State Senator Carolyn Allen.
Yet, Independents are not completely left out of the present system. Though, while they may opt to vote in the Democratic or Republican primary, they cannot cast a primary vote for a Republican in one race and a Democrat in another.
Proponents also argue that the new system will open the political process. “Currently, partisan candidates seeking the nominations of their party often simply address the issues of a narrow group of voters who vote in the primary election,” said Paul Johnson, a former Democratic mayor of Pheonix who has since registered as an Independent, and is spearheading the movement. Under the new system, “candidates will be forced to address issues of importance to all of us – Independents, Democrats and Republicans alike,” he stated.
Johnson and Allen are among those spearheading the effort, as reported here at AZIVN last month.
Opponents of top-two style open primary systems object to the fact that it limits voter choice to just two candidates in the general election. “In practice, it would eliminate minor party and independent candidates from the November ballot,” wrote ballot access expert Richard Winger in an op-ed for the Sacrameto Bee arguing against California’s top-two initiative. Winger points out that this was indeed the case in Washington after the state instituted its own brand of top two in 2008. “Washington, for the first time since it became a state in 1889, had no minor party or independent candidates in November for any statewide state race or for any congressional race,” he stated.
“I call them Choke Point primaries, because that is precisely what they are – they create a choke point so general election voters have less choices,” writes Solomon Kleinsmith at Stop Top Two, an organization founded in opposition to the California initiative. The group notes that there are numerous reform alternatives to the top-two open primary system that would incentivize political participation and lead to more representative government in the United States. It suggests, for example, proportional representation, instant runoff voting, approval voting, and multi-member legislative districts. The Open Government Committee is set to begin collecting signatures to get its initiative on next year’s ballot later this month. They must collect nearly 260,000 valid signatures by July 5th 2012.
The group sees a golden opportunity for reform in the growing number of voters in the state who refuse to affiliate with either of the major parties. In 1990, Democrats and Republicans accounted for 89% of registered voters in Arizona. Ten years, later 18% of Arizonans were registered with no party affiliation or with a third party. By April of this year, 33% of the state’s 3.2 million registered voters opted not to affiliate with either major party, surpassing the registration numbers of the Democrats, who now account for just 31.3% of Arizona’s voters. Based on this trend, many observers predict it is only a matter of time before Independents and third party supporters overtake the Republicans as well. See the Secretary of State’s website for registration numbers going back all the way to 1924, when there were fewer than 100,000 registered voters in the whole state!Though many advocates of third party and independent alternatives to the Democrats and Republicans are staunch opponents of top two, the proposed amendment in Arizona not only does away with the state's semi-closed partisan primary election system, it also requires uniform primary ballot access rules for all candidates seeking to get onto the primary ballot, whether they are registered with a party or with no party at all. This would be a big improvement over Arizona's current system, which overtly discriminates against third party and independent candidates.