Arizona group wants to empower independents with open primaries

Arizona group wants to empower independents with open primaries

Arizona group wants to empower independents with open primaries

This November, Arizona voters will have the opportunity to move their state away from semi-closed primaries and open them up to all registered voters.

A Make Elections Fair Arizona ballot referendum asks whether the current system, in which independents are required to pick up a Republican or Democratic ballot on primary day, is unfair. If approved, the referendum would amend the Arizona Constitution to eliminate the current primary system and replace it with a single, open primary.

Chuck Coughlin, a longtime political consultant in the state who runs the Make Elections Fair Arizona campaign, told the Washington Examiner The measure “allows for every voter for every candidate to be treated equally and for any voter to be able to participate in any election. Very similar to how municipal races are run in Arizona today. Supporters and anyone else can show up and everyone can vote.”

If the goal is achieved, the rules for primary voting would change. On primary day, regardless of party affiliation, all candidates would be placed on a single ballot. Candidates could choose whether or not to say which party they belong to or say nothing at all. Some local elections in Arizona, notably mayoral elections, are already conducted on a nonpartisan basis, with candidates not stating their affiliation but instead explaining their ideas.

“It doesn’t matter if you get a majority in the primary, you’re going to have a general election,” Coughlin said. “Because we want that candidate to be in front of a majority of voters and we want them to turn out because a majority of voters showed up in the general election.”

Voting organizers have left it up to the state legislature to decide what happens if more than two candidates move on to the general election. It could be through ranked-choice voting, or the legislature could decide to limit the number of candidates to two.

“The Fair Elections Act will require everyone to run in a competitive general election — it can be Democrat versus Democrat or Republican versus Republican,” Coughlin said. “It can be an independent candidate, but it’s no longer a question of, ‘Can we win a race outright in a primary? ’”

Arizona’s voter registration is split three ways: There are 1.4 million registered Republicans, 1.4 million registered independents, and 1.2 million registered Democrats. Young Arizonans are increasingly registering less for either party.

“We have a whole generation of young people who don’t belong to either party and have no interest in joining either party,” said Thom Reilly, co-director of the Center for Independent and Sustainable Democracy and a professor at Arizona State University’s School of Public Affairs.

“The defining characteristic of independents is that candidates and issues, not party loyalty, drive their decisions,” Reilly added.

Arizona independents face hurdles, whether as candidates or as voters. Independent voters must choose either a Democratic or Republican ballot when they vote in the primary, which prevents them from voting for different parties in different races.

Independent candidates must gather up to six times as many signatures as candidates with party affiliation. An independent candidate would need to gather 43,492 signatures to be elected, compared to Republicans, who need 7,378, and Democrats, who need 7,035.

The group also believes that this ballot proposal would make Arizona’s elections more competitive. According to he HillHalf of all general election races for the state legislature in the 2022 midterm elections were either uncontested or easily won. Less than a quarter were considered competitive from the start.

“The vast majority of Republicans and the vast majority of Democrats are elected in primaries where only 30% of voters turn out, so that’s their only client,” Coughlin said.

Arizona often splits its votes at the ballot box. In 2016, the same year former President Donald Trump won Maricopa County and the state, Maricopa County voters ousted conservative Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had held the office since 1997.


“I like to say we’re the 48th state for a reason,” Coughlin said. “We still behave like that, like a young man in the room who wants to create chaos and create differences, and so, this ballot initiative reflects the attitude of Arizona because we’re not wedded to one side or the other.

“We just want good candidates who have good answers, and that’s what we hope to get out of this,” Coughlin concluded.