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Judy Hedding

Election 2012: Arizona Proposition 121

By September 26, 2012

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Arizona Proposition 121
Update: This proposition failed.
In November 2012 voters in Arizona will address Proposition 121, entitled Direct Primary Election Law. It is an initiative measure that would amend Arizona's Constitution. If passed Proposition 121 would eliminate the primary election that allows each recognized political party in Arizona to select its own nominee for the general election starting in 2014. In its place would be a primary election system in which registered voters may vote for candidates regardless of political affiliation. The number of candidates who appear on the general election ballot would be limited to only the two who receive the most votes ("top two") and any qualified write-in candidates, for any office where only one candidate is elected. For elections where more than one candidate is elected, the number of names on the ballot will be the number of candidates to be elected times two. Proposition 121 would not apply to the election of United States President.

When registering to vote, voters would be allowed to indicate a party preference in their own words and would not be limited to selecting from a list of recognized political parties or affiliations. Individuals may organize or join political parties and political parties may elect party officers, support or oppose candidates and participate in all elections, as long as the activity does not use public funds.

If passed, several issues would need to be decided by the Legislature, including who has access to the statewide voter database, how vacancies are handled, what percentage of votes will be set each year as the number of petition signatures required, how to pay for the two tier election and how to pay for the cost of implementation and conforming legislation.

The state government is currently responsible for the cost of sample ballots sent to voters. By consolidating the different types of party sample ballots, Proposition 121 is projected to reduce printing costs and result in a savings of between $165,000 and $278,000. Currently, local governments pay the other primary election expenses. Proposition 121 is expected to increase these expenses due to greater production and mailing of ballots primarily to independent voters on the early voting list who do not currently receive a primary ballot. The open primary may also increase the number of ballot pages. The additional local government cost is projected to range from $440,000 to $2 million.

Keep reading to see a synopsis of the pros and cons and find more information about this ballot measure.

Advocates of Proposition 121 say:

  • This would allow all Arizonans to vote in an open primary for the candidate of their choice, regardless of their party affiliation. It ends the current system of taxpayer-funded partisan primaries, and gives Independent voters and candidates an equal voice in the election process. Under the existing partisan primaries, small minorities of voters select candidates who often represent the ideological extremes of the parties. Under the current system, Independent voters, who are the fastest growing category of voters in Arizona and the U.S., have little or no role in the process. The true majority of voters are cut out of the process. Allowing every voter the right to vote in every election will result in elected officials who have to be accessible to all voters not just a powerful few.

  • Typically one party or another dominates a legislative district which means that for all practical purposes whoever wins the partisan primary will be victorious in the general election. Open Elections changes that dynamic in a positive way with all voters choosing among all candidates in a primary and the top two moving on to a runoff general election. Every voter is involved in every step of the election process.

  • This initiative would still allow candidates to identify their party affiliation on the ballot if they wish, and political parties would continue to be able to promote the candidates and issues of their choice. Also, "straight ticket" voters who want to support only candidates from a particular political party would still be free to do so. But, for the ever-increasing number of voters who want the option to vote for the candidates they believe will best represent them, regardless of party affiliation, the Open Elections Open Government Initiative would give them that choice.

  • Currently we elect along party lines, and the primary is at the heart of the matter. The current primary system seems to bring out extreme candidates, who often get elected and go to represent their party instead of the people. If Prop 121 passes an election will no longer be about party affiliation, but about who are the best overall candidates, and would loosen the political stranglehold that the two-party system has on our state/country.

Opponents of Proposition 121 say:

  • The Open Elections/Open Government initiative would effectively abolish political parties in Arizona by prohibiting them from organizing and nominating candidates for virtually all public offices. By preventing political parties from presenting their duly nominated candidates to the voters at election time, this initiative undermines freedom of choice for the voters and freedom of association for the people of Arizona. This initiative will make it more difficult to determine a candidate's position because of the lack of party affiliation and is widely viewed as an incumbency protection act. Open primary elections in other states did not live up to their promises and, in fact, lowered voter turnout. A general election with two candidates from the same faction with similarly held beliefs would diminish voter turnout through lack of interest.

  • The proponents of Prop 121 would have you believe that Arizona does not currently have an "open primary" system. This is categorically false. The truth is, Independent voters in Arizona have the right to vote at any election for any candidate by choosing a party ballot in a primary election.

  • This proposition has sprung up from frustration over extreme, embarrassing or ineffectual government. Many well-meaning Arizonans support this initiative as an answer, stating it will elect more moderates. Frustrations are understandable, but this is not the answer. General elections in some areas will have no choice of a different party candidate, resulting in one party control. All minor party candidates (and probably Independents) will be off the general election ballot. Voter turnout will decrease. Supporters suggest it will increase turnout in primary, but the first similar California primary in June showed the opposite, resulting in dismal turnout (worst presidential primary since early 1950s). Supporters claim that having only two candidates advance to the general election ensures a majority vote without spoiler effect from a third candidate. However, this was not the case in the recent the California election. There are potential solutions to election structure in Arizona that might include: easing independent-candidate ballot access; repealing `sore loser' laws; allowing cross-filing, a true open primary, and ultimately using Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) as our election system. Proposition 121 is not the right solution.

  • This is an attempt to deceive voters. Backers of this proposition want to make it more difficult for voters to determine which candidate they politically and philosophically align with. All non-party-designated voters in Arizona can already vote in the Primary by requesting the ballot they want. The purpose of the primary is for people with common philosophies to elect their choice of candidate for the general election. This results in a general election that offers a variety of candidates with different philosophies. But with a wide-open primary, you could very well end up with candidates from the same party and the same ideology, leaving no choice for the voter.

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Note: pro and con arguments for the proposition were quoted or paraphrased from the official arguments. More arguments may have been submitted; I am presenting only a few that I believe will most help readers decide how to vote. You can find the entire wording of the ballot proposition, and all the pro and con arguments, in the official election pamphlet.

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October 12, 2012 at 12:56 pm
(1) Robin York says:

Proposition 121 will limit our choices at the general election to only the two candidates receiving the top two votes in the primary. The proposition deceptively claims to increase our choices but does the opposite.

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