Don't like your choices, Arizona? There is a better way to run elections

Laurie Roberts for the Arizona Republic

Whew. And Whoa. Arizona’s 2022 election is just about over.


So, is it too soon to start talking about 2024?

If you are one of those who looked at this year’s nominees for governor and longed to bubble in “none of the above,” then no, it’s not a moment too soon.


If you wonder why the incoming Arizona Legislature may be even more conservative than the current crew then no, it’s not too early.


If you wonder how Paul Gosar continues to get elected to Congress, then hey, time’s a wastin’.

If this year has taught us anything, it’s that we need to fundamentally reform the way we elect people in Arizona.

Partisan primaries give us no real choices

Specifically, we need to ditch the taxpayer-financed partisan primaries that too often result in bad choices, or no real choices, in November.

That is, if the goal is to elect Arizona leaders who are actually representative of Arizona voters.

Every few days – lately, every few hours – I get an email from an appalled voter wondering how the hard right rules a purple state.

“How,” they ask, “do these people get elected?”

It’s simple, really.


Our November ballot comes to us courtesy of August partisan primaries that are dominated by voters on the hard right or the hard left.

It’s why Kari Lake is on the November ballot.


It’s why Kyrsten Sinema may not be on the November ballot two years from now.

The will of the majority has long since fallen by the wayside, the victim of a two-party system that voters are abandoning.

No wonder those we elect are out of touch

And so you get a Legislature that is obsessed with the 2020 election, that wants rape victims to bear their attackers’ babies and the well-to-do to get a $7,000 subsidy to offset some of their kids’ private school tuition costs.


This in a state where most voters believe the election was fair, support abortion to a point and just four years ago rejected school voucher expansion.


You get a guy like Gosar, who will skate to reelection after nearly two years of playing footsie with white nationalists and defending the Jan. 6 rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol.


And state Sen. Wendy Rogers, who delights in antisemitic dog whistles, longs for the days of McCarthyism and brands anyone who disagrees with her as either in cahoots with George Soros or a communist or a traitor. Or possibly all three.


Imagine if Rogers or Gosar or the other Trump-endorsed extremists had to run against a mainstream Republican in November, when all of their constituents got a vote?

Instead, Gosar ran virtually unopposed and Rogers faced token Democratic opposition in her heavily Republican legislative district.

Our system is designed to mute independents

The fringe that has assumed control of the GOP doesn’t dominate because they are the choice of Arizona voters.


They dominate because the primary election system is rigged, with a little help from gerrymandered districts, so that nearly two-thirds of the state’s voters don’t matter.


Independents now outnumber both Republicans and Democrats in Maricopa County, and soon they will dominate statewide. Yet our primary system is designed to mute their voices.


We could change that.


We could dump partisan primaries and instead move to a top-two primary, the system long used by Arizona’s cities. Or move to ranked choice voting, an instant runoff system that is used by Maine and Alaska and was on the Nevada ballot today.


"There’s clearly going to be something on the 2024 ballot," longtime political strategist Chuck Coughlin told me. "It (ranked choice voting) is on the ballot in Nevada this cycle. so we’re watching to see what happens up there


It’s a better system that allows people to put country over party or state over party and it disempowers party influence and empowers voters," longtime political strategist Chuck Coughlin told me.

In a top-two primary, every Arizona voter gets the same ballot and the top two candidates for each position move on to the general election (assuming neither gets a majority of the vote the first time around).

In ranked choice, voters rank the candidates in order of preference.

What either would mean is actual choices in November, candidates with broader appeal to the majority of Arizona voters – the people whose voices should matter.


Put a top-two primary on the ballot in 2024

Reforming Arizona's primary system is not a new idea


A decade ago, Arizona voters rejected a proposal to move to a single top-two primary open to all. Both political parties stoned the idea, as did the unions and the “dark money” masters, all of whom had something to lose.


It’s time now for another initiative campaign, one aimed at the 2024 ballot. Already, there is talk. It should quickly become more than talk.


I could give you a multitude of reasons why voters in 2024 should have the chance to reform our election system – to stop giving disproportionate power to two parties when fully a third of the state’s voters belong to neither.


Instead, I’ll just refer you to the November 2022 ballot.

Reach Roberts at laurie.roberts@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LaurieRoberts.