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Republican lawmakers are asking Arizona voters to protect ... Republican lawmakers

Opinion: Arizona's Republican legislators are terrified that Arizona voters may prefer a system that allows moderates to be elected.

Laurie Roberts for the Arizona Republic

The Arizona Legislature has voted to put a measure on the 2024 ballot, aimed at ensuring that a handful of the state’s most ideological voters get to continue dictating who is elected to the Arizona Legislature.

Or put another way, to ensure that the only people who get elected to the Legislature are people like … them.

House Concurrent Resolution 2033 stands as proof that the Republicans who run the Legislature are terrified of Arizona voters.

Plus, they think we’re stupid.

Republicans fear voters will loosen their grip

Under HCR 2033, voters will be asked next year to declare that now and forevermore we will elect our leaders using partisan primaries – the system that allows a minority of Republican and Democratic voters to dictate who will be on the November ballot and ultimately elected, given our scarcity of competitive districts.

The proposed constitutional change passed on a party-line vote and last week was sent directly to next year’s ballot.

So why, you might ask, do Republicans feel the need to ask voters to preemptively block any change in the way we elect our leaders?

Maybe it’s because they’re afraid the state’s voters – nearly a third of whom are now independents – might want to loosen the two major parties’ grip on our elections and move to ranked choice voting.

“Democrats in Arizona know they cannot win the legislature without Ranked Choice Voting,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Austin Smith, R-Wittmann, tweeted last week.

Actually, Democrats are already within one vote of tying up both the House and Senate under our present system.

Ranked choice voting could help moderates

But ranked choice voting isn’t about electing Republicans or Democrats.
It’s about electing representatives who are willing to work with one another – moderates who will emerge from their ideological foxholes and go in search of that increasingly rarified earth we call common ground.

In other words, people who are interested in getting things done.

Two groups, Save Democracy Arizona and Voter Choice Arizona, are exploring the idea of mounting a petition drive to put ranked choice voting on the 2024 ballot.

Contrary to Rep. Smith’s belief that this is some sort of secret Democratic plot, the two groups include people of all political persuasions.

Former Democratic Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, now an independent, supports the idea. But so does former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, a Republican.

Former Democratic Rep. Ken Clark is on board. But so are former Republican Sens. Bob Worsley, Heather Carter and Paul Boyer.

Reforms could go before voters in 2024

Under ranked choice voting, we would have one primary election for all candidates, regardless of political affiliation, and the top five would move on to the general election.

Voters would then rank the candidates in their order of preference. If no candidate wins in the first round of counting, the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped and the second-choice votes of those who supported that candidate are then reassigned to the rest of the field.

The process continues until someone wins a majority vote.

Maine and Alaska have moved to ranked-choice voting, and in both cases the candidates who could attract broadest support won. (Read: not the Republicans.)

In Arizona, initiative petitions could hit the street this summer, hoping to put the issue before voters in 2024.

No wonder the GOP wants to stop this cold

Just the thought of it has Republican legislators running to change the Arizona Constitution, asking voters to block themselves from ever changing the partisan primary system that allows the parties’ most conservative or most liberal voters to call all the shots.

“Most voters are not centrist,” Rep. Alexander Kolodin, R-Scottsdale, said during a recent hearing on HCR 2033. Kolodin, like so many legislators, was elected in the primary and faced no general-election competition.

“Most voters are left or most voters are right,’’ he said. “And so by structuring a system where all we can get out of it is moderates, nobody gets their first choice.”

Perhaps not, but the majority will have spoken, electing a representative who actually is willing to represent them.

Oh, the horror.

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