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What do most Arizona voters want? A different way to vote, according to new ASU survey

Voters across the spectrum support open primaries, a new survey finds. They also agree on removing politics from election oversight.

PHOENIX — What do most Arizona voters want?

A new way to cast their vote that sidelines the political parties.

A new, in-depth survey by Arizona State University's Center for an Independent and Sustainable Democracy shows voters of all political stripes overwhelmingly support an open primary that would put all candidates on the same primary election ballots.

"Voters are basically saying that they shouldn't have to join a party to vote," Thom Reilly, co-director of the Center for an Independent and Sustainable Democracy, said on this weekend's "Sunday Square Off." "There was wide support -- over 80% of all categories are supportive of that."

The survey's larger focus is on voters' confidence in the election system. The top takeaway: Voters wants to see elections run by people with no party affiliation.

"We have to take steps ... to make a separation between the conduct of the election process itself, and the activity of politics," said Jackie Salit, the center's co-director with Reilly. "They've been conflated for too long, and it has really degraded... the public trust in the democratic process."

Arizona's chief elections officer is the secretary of state, a partisan position.

The state 15 counties each run their elections.

In Maricopa County, the state's most populous county and a vital swing vote in national races, the elected County Board recently took steps to distance itself from oversight of elections.

The county's non-partisan elections director will now report to the non-partisan county manager, rather than the County Board. Both officials are appointed by the County Board.

The center surveyed more than 1,000 Arizona registered voters, proportionally divided among Republicans, Democrats, and independents. The survey was funded by the Arizona Clean Elections Commission and Greater Phoenix Leadership.

The survey's release Monday comes after a prominent political consultant scrapped his push for a statewide ballot initiative in 2024 on so-called ranked choice voting.

Chuck Coughlin of HighGround Consulting said his focus now is on getting voter approval for open primaries.

"It addresses the fundamental problem that 85% of legislative and congressional candidates are elected in non-competitive primaries," Coughlin told The Arizona Republic's Laurie Roberts. "You require that every candidate has to be in a competitive election in front of the general election body."

July voter registration data for Maricopa County shows independent voters - those who haven't registered with any party - now make up a plurality of all voters:

  • Independent : 881,256/35.3%

  • Republican: 853,065/34.2%

  • Democratic: 734,077/29.4%

Statewide registration figures are trending in the same direction.

In order to vote in a presidential primary, independent voters would have to re-register with a political party.

For congressional and legislative primaries, independent voters must specify which party ballot they want.

Here's how to register to vote in Arizona.

This isn't the first time independents have led in voter registration. The last time it happened was in 2014.

Despite their large numbers, independent voters' election turnout typically falls short of turnout by registered Republicans and Democrats.

Should the open primaries initiative make it to the statewide ballot in November 2024, it would face off with a proposed ban on open primaries, in an initiative referred to the ballot by the Legislature's Republican majority.


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