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Don't like your choices in November? Then let's fix Arizona's broken election process

Opinion: An open primary election would force candidates to appeal to voters outside their political party, making it more difficult for extremists to advance.


Small minorities determine important outcomes. The 2022 primaries were no different.

Top offices in the Republican primary were won with support from less than 10% of all registered voters. Kari Lake was backed by a total of 9.5% registered voters, Mark Finchem by 7.9%, Blake Masters by 7.8% and Abe Hamadeh by 6.3%.


What are the options now if you are a Republican who accepts the results of the 2020 election and believe the many election authorities and courts who have said there was no fraud?

What if you believe in the rule of law and are not swayed by conspiracy theories widely disseminated on social media and by cable news commentators?


Your choices in November are to vote for a Democrat with whom you may have significant policy disagreements – or vote for somebody who promotes rumors, without evidence, which undermine the very basis of our democratic process. Partisan primary elections are the problem

How did we get to such a state of affairs? Partisan-controlled primaries is how.


It is estimated that between 6% and 13% of all registered voters in Arizona chose the nominees for this year’s general election. The fact is, primary voters will determine 80% to 90% of the races in Arizona.


Think about that. When so few voters vote in primaries and only 25 of 30 districts are competitive, most primary winners face little or no competition in the general election.


This means they need only appeal to the fringes of their party to win an office. Extreme positions have become powerful, and the most dramatic and inflammatory candidates too often prevail.


The parties back the candidates who solidify their political control. Serious policy debate, problem solving – and, yes, compromise – are lost.

Solutions-oriented politicians who “work across the aisle” are “primaried.” Attack campaign ads have become the norm, and threats of violence aimed at sitting officials and candidates are common.

Independents don't participate in the process

It has not always been this way and it need not continue. One essential reform is to change the way we elect our representatives.


Arizona currently has semi-closed primaries. That means Arizona taxpayers pay for two party-controlled primaries, one for the Republicans and one for the Democrats.


Independents and voters who have not designated a party preference – the largest group in Maricopa County and the fastest-growing block of voters across the state – must request one of the party ballots to vote.


Most do not. Reasons vary, but the most common is the extra step it requires.


Partisans who vote by mail get their ballots automatically. Others must request a ballot, which is easy to forget.


Some think the general election is the most important since it decides the ultimate winner – but this limits your choice to the lesser of two evils as it most often allows voters from the “wings” to limit who makes it to the general.


Some may think it is appropriate for the parties to select their candidates without having to appeal to voters outside their party, but then why should we all pay for their selection process?


A 'top two' or ranked choice system would be better

An excellent alternative would be to have open primaries. With open primaries, all candidates are on one ballot and all voters use the same ballot to vote. Candidates may designate their party preference but would not be grouped by party affiliation.


With a “top two” runoff, the top two vote-getters from the primary go to the general election. This system has been adopted in California and Washington.


A top-five open primary with Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is another option. Currently, one Democrat and one Republican face off in November. With open primaries and RCV the top five vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, all advance to the general election, and the candidate with the broadest support from all voters is the winner.


A top-five open primary with Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is another option. Currently, one Democrat and one Republican face off in November. With open primaries and RCV the top five vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, all advance to the general election, and the candidate with the broadest support from all voters is the winner.


Since candidates are incentivized to appeal to a broader electorate there is less negative advertising and more focus on issues.


Alaska adopted open primaries with top-four Ranked Choice Voting. Nevada will vote to implement open primaries and RCV this November.


All states with open primaries have seen extremism reduced, the tenor of the campaigns improve and voter engagement increase. We want elections that treat all voters and candidates the same, that honor civility, and that produce officials who focus on the issues Arizonans really care about.


Join us. Sign up on our website (www.savedemocracyaz.com) to help us bring about such positive change.


Sarah Smallhouse, Si Schorr, Ted Hinderaker and Don Budinger are directors at Save Democracy Arizona, a coalition of Arizonans exploring alternative nonpartisan voting systems to improve our elections. Share your thoughts at info@savedemocracyaz.com.

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