Jul 14, 2022 - Politics

Independent voters are wading into Arizona's primary election

Illustration of a check in a checkbox that shifts from red to blue.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Independent voters are requesting ballots for the Aug. 2 primary election in big numbers, and the majority are pulling Republican ballots.

Why it matters: Only five of Arizona's 30 legislative districts are considered competitive, meaning about 75 of the state's 90 legislators will be selected in the primary.

  • There are hotly contested primaries for several statewide and congressional races on the ballot as well.
  • Independents — who are people who haven't designated a party preference on their voter registration — can vote in whichever primary they prefer.

By the numbers: Independent voters have so far requested about 105,000 ballots, according to the Maricopa County Elections Department.

  • 58,000 of them have asked for Republican ballots, 42,000 want ballots for the Democratic primary and 5,000 have requested nonpartisan ballots for municipal races.
  • Sam Almy, a Democratic operative who closely tracks early ballots, tells Axios Phoenix that about 4,200 of those independents have returned their ballots so far.

Context: Independents have already requested more ballots than they did in 2018, the last election cycle in which statewide offices were up for grabs.

  • 100,000 ballots were requested by independent voters in 2018 — about 50,000 for the GOP primary and 43,000 on the Democratic side.

Yes, but: Just because someone requests a ballot doesn't mean they'll actually return it.

  • Of the 150,000 independents who requested primary election ballots in 2020, only 106,486 actually voted, according to county records.
  • While most Arizona voters cast their ballots by mail, some vote in person at early voting centers or at polling places on Primary Election Day.

Between the lines: Independents could sway the outcome in close races, though it's not always easy to predict who they'll support.

  • While independents are often stereotyped as centrists or moderates, that's not always the case, Almy says.
  • Paul Bentz, of the political consulting firm HighGround, says his polling shows that independent voters are hostile toward the false claims of 2020 election fraud that some candidates are spreading.

What they're saying: "People vote like their neighbors, so if you're an independent out in rural Arizona, you're probably a little bit more conservative than the independent living in north Phoenix or something," Almy says.

  • Almy says independents make up about 13% of the Republican primary ballots that have been returned so far, compared with 10% for the Democratic primary.

Of note: Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer tells Axios Phoenix that it's too early to predict whether independents will request more ballots for this year's primary than they did two years ago, but numbers are running a little behind where they were at this point in 2020.

  • Richer said independent ballot requests are unlikely to surpass the level Maricopa County saw in 2020 but will probably "considerably" exceed the 2018 number.
  • Based on previous data, Almy projects that 90% of early ballot requests have already been made.

What's next: If you're a registered independent in Maricopa County who wants to vote in the primary — or you're not on the Active Early Voter List — you can contact county election officials to request a ballot or go to an in-person polling place any time between now and Primary Election Day.

  • If you're not registered, it's too late to do so for the primary, but you can get a head start on registering for the general election.

1 small thing: You still get an "I voted" sticker if you get a ballot by mail.

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