Sep 13, 2022 - Politics

Open primaries, ranked choice voting may be on 2024 ballot in Arizona

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Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Election reform advocates are hoping this year's elections bolster their efforts to put an "open primary" system on the ballot in 2024.

Why it matters: That would dramatically change the way Arizonans choose their political leaders.

Driving the news: A nonprofit group called Save Democracy AZ is planning a ballot measure for the 2024 general election that would be intended to make the system fairer for independents and reduce the power that the Democratic and Republican parties have on the election system.

Details: It's still early in the process, but for now, the group is focused on educating voters about what it views as inadequacies of Arizona's current electoral system.

  • The proposal could be similar to a failed 2012 ballot measure that sought to create a "top two" primary system in which all candidates for an office appeared on one ballot in the primary, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.
  • Yes, but: Political consultant Chuck Coughlin said the Arizona electorate has changed substantially over the past decade and might take a different view of the issue now.

Between the lines: Coughlin, whose firm, HighGround, is working with Save Democracy AZ, tells Axios that ranked-choice voting would produce the best results, but it's unclear whether Arizona voters would support it.

Context: Ranked-choice voting (RCV) is a system in which people cast votes not only for their first-choice candidate, but for other candidates in order of preference as well.

  • If no candidate gets a majority of the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their voters' second-choice votes are given to the remaining candidates.
  • That process continues until someone has more than 50% of the vote.

Advocates say RCV forces candidates to broaden their appeal to speak to a wider base of voters and makes it harder for more extreme candidates to win.

  • Coughlin noted that Sarah Palin, whom he described as an "extreme" candidate, received a lot of first-choice votes during an election in Alaska last month but relatively few second-choice votes.

The other side: Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona Republican Party, and Tyler Bowyer, a Republican national committeeman for Arizona, have been vocal critics of RCV.

AZGOP spokesperson Kristy Dohnel tells Axios that the party opposes top-two primaries and ranked-choice voting because, its says, voters are best represented by nominating candidates from each party for the general election.

  • A spokesperson from the Arizona Democratic Party did not respond to Axios.

Flashback: With the notable exception of the top-two primary measure in 2012, Arizona voters have historically been supportive of political and electoral reforms.

  • In 1998, voters approved an open primary system in which independents can cast ballots in whichever primary election they want, and the Clean Elections system of public funding for political campaigns.

What's next: Nevada voters will decide in November whether to adopt ranked-choice voting in their state. The result could help guide the group's decisions about its ballot measure in 2024.

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