Move underway to end partisan primaries in Arizona

Published: Oct. 10, 2023 at 9:56 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who says our political system operates like a well-oiled machine.

Problems continue to creep up, like homelessness, border issues and budgets, which linger on for years and years with no solutions.

But now, there’s a group led by Republicans that says it may have a solution and is asking voters to weigh in.

It’s called “Make Elections Fair Arizona,” an initiative that may be headed to the 2024 ballot.

It would end partisan primaries.

“The problem with today’s world, is you have to be a Republican or Democrat, where the majority of the electorate is now unaffiliated,” said AZ Highground, Inc. President Chuck Coughlin, who is spearheading the movement.

For the first time, as of July, the number of registered independents in Arizona is higher than either the number of registered Republicans or Democrats.

That means the biggest single share of voters in Arizona has no home.

“The problem with the Republican party today, and to some extent the Democratic party, if you don’t believe in exactly what we say, we don’t want you in the room,” Coughlin said.

This means a small share of the electorate is making decisions in the primaries, which often decides the outcome of an election long before the general, which has a much higher turnout.

According to Coughlin, 80% of the candidates in primaries are elected by 20% of the Republicans and 15% of the Democrats, generally leaving the independents on the outside looking in.

“As an unaffiliated voter, I’m having to pay for partisan primaries and I can’t participate unless I request one of their ballots,” he said. “Why do we do that?”

Independents can vote in primaries, but they have to change their registration to one party or the other, parties they have already rejected, and then change back after the election if they want to be independent again.

It’s a fairly cumbersome process, which explains why only about 10% do it.

Coughlin worked for Republican Senator John McCain and Governor Jan Brewer but has become disillusioned with the two-party primary system, which he calls unfair to independents.

“We want to reduce those barriers to participation so anybody can access, so an independent doesn’t need to access a Republican or democratic ballot,” he said. “Just give me a ballot and I’ll vote that ballot.”

He believes that will increase voter participation but to do that, his group will need to gather nearly 390,000 petition signatures to get the “Make Elections Fair” initiative on next year’s ballot.

The primary would be non-partisan. Voters would vote for one candidate, on one ballot, with the names of all the candidates regardless of party.”The primary thrust of our initiative is to make sure there are no partisan primaries anymore, that we eliminate all partisan influence in the primary and allow everybody to compete on an equal footing,” he said. “That’s a significant change from where we are today.”

That could lead to more moderate candidates, less gridlock and more compromise than in the current system.

“Because the system rewards partisanship, it rewards extreme points of view, it does not honor problem-solving,” Coughlin said.

Bringing in more moderates willing to compromise could mean some of those unsolvable problems get solved.

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