Presidential nominees already picked, but Arizona voters still have options

A sign points the way to a polling place for Arizona’s presidential preference election on Tuesday – after more than half the states have voted and President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have already locked up enough delegates for a rematch this fall. (Photo by Sam Ballesteros/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Joe Biden and Donald Trump have already locked up their parties’ presidential nominations, but that doesn’t mean Arizona voters won’t have a choice when they cast ballots Tuesday in the state’s presidential preference election.

The question is how many voters exercise that choice.

Democrats angry with Biden’s stance on Gaza are urging a protest vote to show their displeasure, while Trump critics can pick from eight other – former – GOP candidates whose names are still on the ballot.

“By using the vote and the ballot to send a message to the people in power, that gives us a very useful tool,” said James Wisehart, the outreach coordinator at Arizona Palestine Network. It is one of the groups that is urging Arizona Democrats to vote for challenger Marianne Williamson as a message to Biden.

Wisehart said he doesn’t want Trump to win the 2024 election, but doesn’t want to vote for Biden unless he calls for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

“Frankly, a lot of people that I know — including myself — are disillusioned with the electoral process. A lot of us would rather not even vote because it just feels like a waste of time,” Wisehart said.

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Historically, the presidential preference election has historically not led to big voter turnout in Arizona.

Participation has ranged from a high of 52.59% of eligible party voters in 2016 – when Trump beat 13 GOP candidates and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders led a crowded field of Democrats – to 2004, when turnout was just 30.05%. Democrats had a choice of 18 candidates that year, while Republicans did not hold a primary before nominating President George W. Bush for reelection.
Blake Sacha, a volunteer leader at Voter Choice Arizona, said voters who are frustrated with the electoral system could have the potential to change it with the proposed Make Elections Fair Arizona ballot initiative, which is currently in the signature-gathering stage.

The initiative would open the presidential preference election to independent and unaffiliated voters, who currently cannot vote in presidential primaries in the state.

“What we see in the primary election today is that a very small percentage of people participate, and those people tend to be more partisan on the left or the right,” Sacha said. “So the decisions on who gets elected are made by a small and not representative sample of the general Arizona population.

“So it (the initiative) would increase the likelihood that the candidate or candidates selected would be the candidates preferred by the majority of Arizona voters,” he said.

Coupled with ranked-choice voting, which Voter Choice Arizona supports, voters could have more say in the candidates representing them, Sacha said. He also said ranked choice voting is popular in states that have enacted it, like Alaska and Maine.

Arizona is one of five states holding presidential primaries on Tuesday, and will likely be overshadowed by delegate-rich states like Ohio and Florida. Not that delegates matter much at this point: More than half the states have already held their primaries and both Biden and Trump won enough delegates to lock up their nominations after Super Tuesday voting two weeks ago in 16 states.

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But Wisehart and several other activists still want to send a message to Biden by voting for Williamson. Similar campaigns have been organized in other states that encouraged voters to vote “uncommitted,” but the Arizona activists focused on Williamson because the state does not offer an uncommitted or write-in option.

Kai Newkirk, a local activist who helped organize the protest vote, said Biden risks losing support in the general election if he doesn’t listen to Democratic voters who are frustrated that the administration has not called for a ceasefire.

“It’s putting our democracy at risk by alienating critical voters that he needs in his coalition to defeat Trump and fascism,” he said.

Wisehart said he hopes the protest vote sends a message to politicians that voters are tired of settling for candidates they do not fully support.

“We’re constantly told, choose the lesser of two evils,” Wisehart said. “But that’s never going to be acceptable and it never has been — even though we’ve pretended up until this point that it was — because the only thing you get out of that is evil.”

Reagan Priest Ray-gan Priest (she/her/hers)
News Reporter, Phoenix

Reagan Priest expects to graduate in May 2024 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Priest has also worked at The Copper Courier, The State Press, Cronkite News D.C., The Arizona Republic and Arizona PBS.

Sam Ballesteros sam by-yeh-STAIR-os (she/they)
News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Sam Ballesteros expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication and a minor in music. Ballesteros has interned as a photojournalist at The Arizona Republic and worked as a content creation assistant at Arizona PBS.