top of page

New voter initiative to scrap partisan primaries in Arizona? Heck, yeah

Opinion: Coming soon to a neighborhood near you: A statewide initiative campaign aiming to outlaw partisan primaries. Makes total sense here, in the state where independents now outnumber Republicans

Congratulations are in order to the Arizona Republican and Democratic parties.

The parties have managed to alienate so many people that independents now comprise the largest voting bloc in the state.

They just don’t have much to show for it.

That’s because we in Arizona still are stuck with an antiquated election system that caters to (read: props up) the two major parties, as if they’re the only game in town.

Fortunately, there's a way to fix that.

Coming soon to a neighborhood near you: A statewide initiative campaign aiming to outlaw partisan primaries.

“Why are we permitting two private political parties who no longer dominate to dictate the rules of our election?”

said longtime political strategist Chuck Coughlin, who will run the campaign to put the initiative on the 2024 ballot. “They’re not serving our interests. They’re serving their own interests.”

Interests that the largest bloc of Arizona voters are rejecting.

Unaffiliated voters now make up the biggest bloc in Arizona

Updated statewide voter registration figures will be out later this month but ABC 15's Garrett Archer, a longtime election data analyst, dove into already reported updates from the counties to project that independents now outnumber both Republicans and Democrats in Arizona.

There are 1,445,809 independent voters, he reports, with Republicans now with 1,443,136 and Democrats at 1,261,451.

In Maricopa County, roughly 40,000 residents have registered as independents since the November 2022 election. Republicans added just 12,000 voters and Democrats a paltry 2,500, Archer reports.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer says that half or more of people newly registering to vote in the Valley are now opting for “party not designated” (read: independent). Among those switching their designations, independents are taking in twice as many voters as they’re losing.

Yet independents don't get a say in presidential primaries

Yet those nearly 1.5 million independent voters will not be allowed to cast a ballot in next year’s presidential preference election.

Oh, they, along with every other taxpayer, will pay for that election. They just won’t be given a voice in it.

Independents can vote in our August primaries. But they're forced to choose either a Republican or a Democratic party ballot. So most won’t bother – never mind that that election that largely shapes who will represent us given our appalling shortage of truly competitive political districts.

And you wonder why we have a Legislature that remains obsessed with the 2020 election, that wants rape victims to bear their attackers’ babies and taxpayers to help pay for their kids’ private school tuition?

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

It's about time we put an end to party exclusivity in primaries

It seems clear what needs to happen.

Arizona’s presidential preference election should be opened to every independent voter. Put simply: If you pay for it, you ought to be able to vote in it.

With independents our largest voting bloc, it's surprising that nobody has sued to make that happen.

Meanwhile, Arizona’s statewide primary election system also needs a massive overhaul, eliminating the partisan primaries that allow a minority of Republican and Democratic voters to dictate our choices – and even our leaders.

Fortunately, there's a plan underway to fix that.

Voter initiative to start signature drive soon for 2024 election

Coughlin says his group has scrapped plans for an initiative to bring ranked-choice voting to Arizona.

Instead, it is preparing an initiative asking voters to outlaw taxpayer-financed partisan primary elections. The Legislature and Gov. Katie Hobbs would be directed to develop a new system that puts all candidates on one primary-election ballot.

With one set of rules to get there. (Or is there a good reason why state law requires independent candidates to collect five times more signatures than their Republican or Democratic counterparts?)

Look for petitions to hit the streets as early as next month.

I'm guessing this will be like the dark money initiative – heavily fought by those invested in the current system but wildly popular with voters who too often lament the choice of "none of the above" come November.

“It addresses the fundamental problem that 85% of legislative and congressional candidates are elected in non-competitive primaries," Coughlin said. "You require that every candidate has to be in a competitive election in front of the general election body."

God forbid we have a system that disfavors extreme candidates

That thud you just heard? Fully half of the Arizona Legislature just collapsed in a dead faint.

What if Sen. Wendy Rogers, for example, had to face another Republican in November?

Imagine, a new system that puts all candidates on a level playing field and gives all voters an equal voice.

The Legislature could go with a Top Two primary, modeled after the system used by cities where every candidate is on one ballot and the top two vote-getters progress to a runoff.

Or it could opt for ranked-choice voting – and possibly would, should Democrats take control of the Legislature in 2025.

Republicans are horrified at a system that would seem to favor more centrist candidates.

It's up to we the people to give independents a true voice

The GOP-run Legislature has actually put its own proposal on next year’s ballot, hoping to protect the current partisan primary system that allows a handful of the state’s most ideological voters to dictate our choices in November.

The chances of changing our system so that every vote counts? Nonexistent, unless we the people decide it's time to elect representatives who are actually representative of the state.

The question of the day is this:

Why on earth are we giving such wildly disproportionate power to two parties when more than a third of the state’s nearly 4.2 million voters – the largest bloc of Arizona voters – belong to neither?


bottom of page