Oct 26, 2023 - News

Arizonans may vote on three ballot measures on the future of primary elections

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Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Arizonans may have to choose between three competing propositions next November to decide how to conduct future primary elections.

Why it matters: We could be staring down a 2024 fight that has the potential to overhaul our elections.

Better Ballot Arizona proposed an amendment to the state constitution that would replace partisan primaries with a system in which all candidates appear on one primary ballot and the top five vote-getters advance to the general election.

  • Winners would be determined through ranked-choice voting (RCV), in which voters rank candidates by order of preference.
  • If no one gets a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their voters' second-choice votes are given to the remaining candidates until someone has over 50%.

The Make Elections Fair Act, filed last month, would end partisan primaries and have all candidates appear on a single nonpartisan primary ballot, with two to five candidates advancing to the general election.

  • It wouldn't mandate RCV, but the state would have to use ranking in any system where more than two candidates advance from the primary.

GOP lawmakers referred a proposition earlier this year to the 2024 ballot that would enshrine Arizona's current partisan primary system in the state constitution.

State of play: The two initiative campaigns need to collect at least 384,000 valid signatures by July 3, 2024, to even qualify for the ballot.

  • If more than one of the three measures are approved by voters, the option with the most votes would become law.

Between the lines: The reformist groups were originally working together, but split after the group behind the Make Elections Fair Act decided to permit but not mandate RCV.

  • Better Ballot Arizona executive director Kazz Fernandes told Axios Phoenix the group moved forward with a competing proposal because it provides voters with more choices, while the Make Elections Fair Act could result in fewer choices in the general election.

The other side: Chuck Coughlin, a spokesperson for the Make Elections Fair Act, said they decided "based on a year and a half's worth of research" that Better Ballot Arizona's proposal wasn't feasible.

  • He added that he doesn't believe Better Ballot Arizona, which is currently volunteer-only, will have the resources to get on the ballot, though Fernandes said his effort plans to seek funding and hopes to hire paid petitioners to collect signatures.
  • Fernandes said Coughlin's polling was "pessimistic" but that his group has seen polling with "numbers we can use to craft a path to victory."

The other other side: Rep. Austin Smith (R-Wittmann), who sponsored the pro-partisan primaries measure, told Axios Phoenix that his proposal will have an easier time if the other measures both make the ballot.

  • The two initiatives will compete with similar messages, and some voters may vote for one and against the other, he said.
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