Arizona’s Primary & The Independent Vote – Unwrapping The Mystery

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Posted on / by Alex Berger

In the lead up to the February 5th Primary I contacted the Arizona Elections department with several questions about Electronic Voting Machines. After several initial issues I got a response that really surprised me. Instead of bureaucracy, excuses or short vague answers the individual that got back to me was pro-active, offered excellent information and was eager to explain and share information. View the post here.

If you’re an Arizonan reading this, you’re probably aware that Independents were prohibited from voting in the February 5th primary. Luckily I’d found out about the law ahead of time and switched my official party affiliation from Independent to Democrat in order to vote. Unfortunately, I know a lot of people who either found out too late, or were unwilling to make the switch. Given the variance between the will of the people and how the parties have been behaving I don’t blame them.

With nearly 30% of Arizona’s registered voters identifying themselves as Independents it’s a pretty major group of eligible and willing voters to exclude from the Primary. Especially when one considers all of the individuals out there like me, who are currently registered as Democrats or Republicans exclusively to participate in the primary and who are in all other ways Independents. In the lead-up to the Primary I was focused on getting the vote out, but once the dust settled I set to the task of trying to unwrap what struck me as a rather bizarre mystery. After some basic research and a lot of confusing, scattered information I decided to contact the gentleman with the elections department who had been so helpful previously.

My e-mail was as follows:

From: Alex Berger
Sent: Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Rey,

Another question for you – as I understand it the reason Independents can’t vote in the AZ primaries is tied to a 98 law. I was able to vote today because I found out about the law a while back and switched to one of the big 2 – however it really left a bitter feeling. I’m all about an educated voting populace and people voting based on a candidates merits. To that end, I’d prefer to be independent instead of just voting down party lines like a mindless drone. I’ve talked to a lot of people who are registered as independents and pretty agitated by the law and their forced exclusion. From what I’ve seen it has really added to the “my vote doesn’t count”/”it’s all fixed anyway” sentiments which are pretty prevalent right now. With 30% of the state registered as independents why hasn’t something been done to correct this? Which I guess leads me to my real question.

What can I do to help solve the problem?

As an active, passionate voter I want every opportunity to vote I can get. I also want to make sure my voice is heard. Yet, by being forced to affiliate with the D/R parties in order to have any say, I feel as though I’m being forced to endorse political groups that I really am sick/tired/frustrated with. In that light the law seems like legislation put in place/sponsored by these two groups in order to retain their failing membership base by veritable blackmail instead of addressing the issues.

I know that you are probably unable to respond to my general concerns, however, I just wanted to share them with you as general feedback. I would really appreciate any guidance/information you can offer on the Independent voting issue and any direction you can offer for additional information.

Thanks again!

RESPONSE:

Alex, my apologies for such a late response but we have been attempting to complete the February Presidential Preference Election and most of my waking days, and some of my sleeping hours, have been put towards that effort. We just completed the Hand Count Audit for this February 5th Election of the ballots cast at the randomly selected polling places (on both the optical scan and the Direct Recording Equipment touch screen ballots) as well as the audit of the 25 batches of Early Voting ballots (200 ballots per batch and randomly selected by both political party observes that are present during the tabulation process). As noted in my earlier emails about this topic, this audit is performed by citizen boards made up of 3 members of which no more than two can be from the same political party. It was indeed an endeavor but one that we know as election workers is both valuable and needed, to ensure the voters of Maricopa County and the State of Arizona that the results provided are true and correct. As a note, the variance that occurred between the machine count and the hand count for all types and categories of ballots was 0%.

As to your question regarding the fact that the Presidential Preference Election is closed to voters not registered within a given party offering candidates, you are correct that this is the case.

However, the 1998 law that you are referring to is not the reason why an independent or unaffiliated voter cannot participate in the Presidential Preference, it is instead the reason why an independent or unaffiliated voter can participate in the September primary elections. Proposition 106 passed in 1998 and it amended the Arizona Constitution to open the September Primary Elections, which previously were closed before this law change. The law change made it so that unaffiliated voters could participate in the Primary Election process.

Here is the link (http://www.azleg.gov/FormatDocument.asp?inDoc=/const/7/10.htm) to the Arizona Constitution and the text of Article 7, Section 10 is as follows:

Arizona Constitution; Article VII, Section 10 – Direct Primary Election Law
The Legislature shall enact a direct primary election law, which shall provide for the nomination of candidates for all elective State, county, and city offices, including candidates for United States Senator and for Representative in Congress. Any person who is registered as no party preference or independent as the party preference or who is registered with a political party that is not qualified for representation on the ballot may vote in the primary election of any one of the political parties that is qualified for the ballot.

As I understand it, when the decision was made that the February 5th Presidential Preference Election was not covered by this law change, it was for two principal reasons. First, because the Presidential Preference Election (PPE) was not a true Primary as defined by State Statute. In other words, when a candidate wins in the September Primary (the States true Primary Election) they are guaranteed a slot on the November General Election ballot and a win in the General Election elects the candidate to office. This is not so for the Presidential Preference Election. Second, the only Federal offices that the Arizona State Constitution addresses is the Offices for United States Senator or Representative in Congress. It does not speak to the Presidential Electors or Presidential Candidates.

The February 5th Presidential Preference does not guarantee the winner a move to the November General Election ballot nor does it even require the same stringent requirements to gain access to the ballot as the September Primary Election does. Moreover, this particular election is not an election that is required to be held. For example, in 2004 the Republican Party did not opt to offer any candidates at the 2004 Presidential Preference Election and in the 2000 Presidential Preference Election, the Democrats opted to not participate and only the Republicans and Libertarians offered candidates at this election. This year, the Republicans and Democrats both choose to offer candidates and the Libertarians opted to not participate (As a note, the Republicans, Democrats and Libertarian are the only parties that have current recognition in the State of Arizona). In support of the fact that this election is technically not required, not all States even hold a preference, caucus or Presidential Primary election and the candidates are not required to run in any of the elections that are conducted even if they are held. It is highly unlikely that they would not run but this did happen this year for the State of Michigan where the Democratic candidates’ agreed to boycott this election since it was held earlier than National Party rules allow for.

In the simplest of terms, this is a party election which is closed to non-members and it was never offered up as an election in Arizona before 1992. In 1992, Arizona established the Presidential Preference Election giving voters the opportunity to express their preference for the presidential candidate of the political party the voter is registered with. Again, the key reason that the Presidential Preference Election is not considered a “primary” election is because it does not determine which party candidate is placed on the November General Election ballot. The Presidential Preference Election can be simply defined as an internal party caucus that is used to gauge the wants of their registered members, when it comes to who the national party should nominate as its candidate of choice.

The argument can be made that an independent or unaffiliated voter can vote for whomever they want on the November General Election ballot and therefore should have a voice in telling the national party who they want them to nominate. That ideology is not, however, supported by all factions of the national parties.

To answer your question as to what can be done to change this, the fact is that the Arizona Constitution would need to be once again amended through the legislative or initiative process. Either the legislative body caries this issue to the voters or the voters propose their own initiative, similar to Proposition 106. Here is the link to Arizona Revised Statute, Title 19 that covers the Initiative, Referendum and Recall process for the State. http://www.azleg.state.az.us/ArizonaRevisedStatutes.asp?Title=19.

As a note, a change to the Constitution to “open” the Presidential Preference Election does not necessarily guarantee that an unaffiliated voter would be able to vote for a candidate from a specific party because a political party can opt to not participate at all in our election or the candidate themselves may opt to not run in our election. It is doubtful that candidates would not run but the notation needs to be made that this is not a required election that all Presidential Candidates must participate in. You will see that this is true when we come to the November General Election and there may be an Independent Party, Libertarian Party or other party presidential candidates or electors on the ballot that were not offered up in this February 5th Election.

Again, my apologies for possibly providing more information than you wanted to know or providing information that you were already familiar with. As is with any process, change can be made and fortunately for us, we live in a State that allows for the initiative process to exist. Through this democratic process is where you, as an “active, passionate voter”, can effectuate change. From our exchanges I can see that you are indeed passionate about your beliefs and that is the first step to making a difference.

With regards,

Reynaldo Valenzuela Jr.
Assistant Director of Elections
Maricopa County Elections Department
510 South 3rd Avenue
Phoenix, Arizona 85003

As a matter of record I’ve since responded to Rey but will not be including that response in this post as I don’t feel it contributes anything in terms of general knowledge. Also, I’d like to publicly commend Reynaldo once again for doing an incredible job and really coming back with a lot of wonderful information.

I realize that the primary is effectively to select a candidate of the party for the party, so to speak, and appreciate what seems to be their desire to keep it limited to their membership base. While that in principle seems like an acceptable practice, given the 2 party monopoly that has been in existence in the US it seems unreasonable. Politics and power aside the chief purpose of the government and the political parties should be to serve the will and needs of the people. Limiting their voice strikes me as the antithesis of what we want and completely detrimental to the process and America’s principles. By that same stroke is the forced conversion of independents really going to be beneficial for the parties in the long run and/or result in increased retention of their members? If they are hesitant to change the law because they fear a membership bleed-off why not re-evaluate their actions and policies and actually address the issues instead of a forced fix which further alienates people.

In part due to the uproar that followed the Feb. 5th Primary 2 bills were introduced which would have in different ways re-evaluated the Independent vote. The last news article I read said that both had basically been blocked. The GOP bill is insane, biased and insulting so I’m glad to see it stopped. I don’t have much/any info on the second, but I think it was more fair handed. If anyone has any updates please feel free to post them as comments.

Hope this helped explain the situation a bit better and offered some new information.

*It should be obvious, but to be clear I have included these e-mails because of the quality information in them. My thoughts and reflections as contained in this post are my own and should not in any way/shape or form be conveyed onto Rey or the Elections Department.

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.

4 Comments

  • gwen
    February 12, 2008

    Hi Alex,
    Obviously the Open Primary issue has become a big one all over the country and lots of enraged voters finding out that they couldn’t vote in the primaries (20 states have closed primaries).

    Check out http://www.independentvoting.org. In particular, if you click on the activist page, you’ll find a sample letter that independents are sending to letters to editors around the country shedding more light on the Open Primary issue. If you’re interested in hooking up with other indies in Arizona who are beginning to work on this issue (and organize indies locally), let me know and I’d be happy to introduce you to them
    Gwen
    http://www.independentvoting.org

    Reply
  • gwen
    February 12, 2008

    Hi Alex,
    Obviously the Open Primary issue has become a big one all over the country and lots of enraged voters finding out that they couldn’t vote in the primaries (20 states have closed primaries).

    Check out http://www.independentvoting.org. In particular, if you click on the activist page, you’ll find a sample letter that independents are sending to letters to editors around the country shedding more light on the Open Primary issue. If you’re interested in hooking up with other indies in Arizona who are beginning to work on this issue (and organize indies locally), let me know and I’d be happy to introduce you to them
    Gwen
    http://www.independentvoting.org

    Reply
  • Alex Berger
    February 13, 2008

    Gwen, Great information thank you for sharing. I’ll definitely be checking the site out and looking into getting involved.

    Reply
  • Alex Berger
    February 12, 2008

    Gwen, Great information thank you for sharing. I’ll definitely be checking the site out and looking into getting involved.

    Reply

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