Arizona could see open primaries on the ballot this November, allowing independents to weigh in on presidential nominees

(Video by Aoife Kane/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – A campaign aiming to open Arizona’s primary elections filed its petition to qualify for the November ballot on Wednesday after collecting over 560,000 signatures.

If passed, the state constitutional amendment would let Arizona voters participate in primaries regardless of their party affiliation.

That would let more than 1.3 million independent voters who aren’t registered as a Republican or Democrat vote on those parties’ presidential primaries.

The office of the Secretary of State has up to 20 business days to certify the petition, but only 383,923 valid signatures are required.

Even if voters approve the amendment in November, it would be up to the Legislature – which is controlled by the two parties – to decide the mechanics of how nominees are picked for a general election.

If passed, the amendment would take effect in time for the 2026 primaries.

Fifteen states have some form of an open primary of the sort proposed for Arizona. In some, the top two vote-getters move on to the general election, regardless of party. Alaska uses a top-four system with ranked-choice voting. Louisiana has a ‘jungle’ system where the candidate who receives a majority of the votes progresses.

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Independents outnumbered registered Republicans and Democrats in Arizona in 2023.

Under the state’s current semi-closed primary – a system similar to that used in most states – voters can only cast a ballot in a presidential primary if they register with the party.

Independents can vote in U.S. House and Senate races in Arizona, and in state legislative elections, without registering by party.

“Arizona is searching for new ways to engage in the political process,” said Jacqueline Salit, president of Independent Voting, a national strategy center for voters unaffiliated with a party.

“No taxation without representation – some of these things are very fundamental to American’s conceptions of democracy,” she said.

Most elections are decided in the primaries, because districts are carefully drawn to favor one party or the other. That leaves independent voters with little voice, she said.

Chuck Coughlin, the political consultant running the campaign to open Arizona primaries, said the abortion rights ballot measure will likely boost turnout, and that could have spillover benefits for his cause.

Donors have poured $7.5 million into the effort so far and Coughlin says he has commitments for up to $4 million more. The group had $2 million on hand at the end of April, according to its most recent campaign finance report

“Put the best candidates on the ballot. Let everybody vote. … Every election, every candidate, every election. We think that that notion of fairness will work very well with the electorate,” he said.

In addition to voting inside, Arizona residents were able to drop off their ballots at the entrance of Gila River Arena. (File photo by Michael Gutnick/Cronkite News)

In addition to voting inside, Arizona residents were able to drop off their ballots at the entrance of Gila River Arena. (File photo by Michael Gutnick/Cronkite News)

The only organized opposition to emerge so far has come from Republicans in legislative district 17, north of Tucson, who filed as an organization opposed to the initiative.

The state’s Republican and Democratic parties did not respond to requests for comment.

“The parties are very powerful,” Salit said, adding concern about the way partisan lawmakers might implement it. “Should it be a top two, a top three, a top five? … It kicks it to the Legislature, which is of course controlled by the parties.”

Younger voters are historically disinterested in politics, said Thom Reilly, co-director of Arizona State University’s Center for an Independent and Sustainable Democracy. But despite their dissatisfaction with the current system, many are more engaged than in previous generations.

In June, the center released findings that 95% of people aged 20 to 30 support equal access to voting regardless of party affiliation.

“They’re rejecting the two parties” and view “open access and equal access as important issues,” Reilly said, predicting that measures on open primaries and reproductive rights will boost turnout among younger voters.

Carrie Sackett, an independent Arizona voter who signed the ballot initiative petition, called it a no-brainer.

“We might have different opinions on different issues,” said Sackett, a life coach in Phoenix, but for independents, “what unites us all is we feel like the two political parties are failing the American people.”

News Broadcast Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Aoife Kane expects to graduate in September 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Dublin City University in Ireland. Kane has worked with Irish public broadcaster RTE for the last three years and interned as a reporter at amNewYork in New York City in 2023.