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It’s time we treat all voters and all candidates equally

Sarah Brown Smallhouse, Don Budinger, Ted Hinderaker, and Si Schorr Save Democracy Arizona

Do you believe it is fair to require some candidates for office to collect six times the number of signatures as other candidates to get on the ballot? Do you think politics and government are going in the right direction? Most voters in Arizona answer no. Many of us have a sinking feeling about the strength of our democracy as America approaches its 250th birthday.

Until recently, we have mostly felt like our political system was working. But now, to a growing number of us, it doesn’t feel like it. Is there a crisis in our democracy? Are we failing to uphold core values like fairness, equality, opportunity, and choice? We suggest one of the biggest problems today lies with the way we elect our representatives. The uneven playing field Like Thomas Jefferson said, “That government is the strongest of which every man feels himself a part.” In Arizona, election rules do not treat “every man” the same way. Our current partisan primary system, paid for by all taxpayers, excludes candidates not affiliated with a political party from participating. A voter who does not belong to a party must go through additional steps to receive a primary election ballot. This makes it easier for party candidates to win, and harder for a third of Arizona voters to vote. People who choose not to affiliate with a party are second-class citizens in our current system.


As the two major parties endlessly square off for combat, more people are renouncing political parties. In January of 2022, 33% of Arizona voters are unaffiliated, 31% are Democratic, and 34% are Republican. If that sounds surprising to you, go to www.savedemocracyaz.com.


Save Democracy works with you to expand the political marketplace of ideas we have today in Arizona: “Blue Aisle or Red Aisle?” What happened to the good old idea of competition?

We are not claiming to have all the answers, but we know where to start.


1. Treat all voters and candidates equally

Fairness is crucial. We should level the playing field for all candidates, including independent and third-party candidates who are currently excluded from primary elections and face higher signature requirements and other massive barriers to participation. Equal treatment would increase competition, make elections fairer, and improve the tenor of debate.

2. Appeal to a broader coalition

Candidates should talk to all voters with a focus on the issues — not just a small portion of their party. Elections should be about candidates having to communicate with and appeal to a broad coalition of voters.

3. What’s happening elsewhere.

We are looking at Alaska’s recent enactment of a single nonpartisan open primary in which every voter can vote and be heard, and every candidate is treated equally. Rather than just targeting negative information and hurling it at the rival candidate, which happens in Arizona’s two-product system, Alaska candidates will have to address more than a narrow segment of partisan voters to win elections.


4. This isn’t new to Arizona

An open primary election is not really a new concept, it’s what most Arizona cities already use to elect mayors and city councilmembers. It has worked well to elect local leaders focused on finding solutions and making our local governments work effectively. Ask yourself this question: Which government do I approve of the most: federal, state, or local? Most Arizonans are much more satisfied with their local government.


The Save Democracy coalition exists to provide information about how Arizona’s voting system currently operates and to study alternative nonpartisan primary structures that could make government more efficient, fairer, less divisive and more responsive to our needs. We are a nonpartisan organization that welcomes everyone, regardless of party affiliation.


If you want real political transparency, integrity, and fairness, and believe everyone should have the same right to participate in any election as a voter or a candidate, join us! Sign up at www.savedemocracyaz.com.


Let’s find a system that will work for us all, not just some of us. A system that will leave a better future for our children and stop the sinking feeling we all have in our gut today.


Sarah Brown Smallhouse is president of the Thomas R Brown Foundations. Don Budinger is chairman of Rodel Foundation of Arizona. Ted Hinderaker is a founding member of the Hinderaker, Rauh and Weisman law firm. Si Schorr is a senior partner (retired) of the Lewis Roca law firm.

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