Independents need Democrats' help to vote in presidential primaries. Don't count on it
Posted by Danny Battista on September 20, 2019 at 10:30 AM
Opinion: Abe Kwok, Arizona Republic - September 20, 2019
Independents have valid arguments to vote in Arizona presidential primaries. But they must rely on a political party to make it happen.
Arizona independents have solid arguments why they should be allowed to vote in the state’s presidential preference elections.
Yet they face long odds in their quest to vote in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. (The state Republicans canceled their primary with Donald Trump running for a second term.)
A big reason why is because they and their advocates are relying on another team to execute the playbook — namely the state Democratic Party.
The pathway they see begins with the Democratic state committee meeting Sept. 21 in Prescott, at which an emergency resolution to open up the 2020 Democratic Presidential Preference Election will be offered up for a vote.
Allowing independents requires a lawsuit
If approved, it would trigger a lawsuit over an Arizona statute that requires voters to be a registered member of a political party in order to cast a ballot in that party’s presidential primary.
And in court, the Democratic Party could assert the claim that the statute infringes on the party’s freedom of association — ostensibly with thousands of independents who would vote in the presidential primary if permitted.
The claim has worked in other cases. An oft-cited 1986 U.S. Supreme Court case, Tashjian v. Republican Party of Connecticut, found that Connecticut’s statute allowing only party members to vote in primaries violated the rights to association guaranteed by the First and 14th amendments.
All of which is plausible if the Arizona Democratic Party were indeed simpatico with advocates of the open presidential primary effort.
Party leaders just aren't interested
Yet it appears not to be — if party leadership’s reticence is any indication.
Aside from state Sen. Martín Quezada, with a legislative proposal that went nowhere, and Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes, who drafted the emergency resolution for the Democrats committee meeting, no one has championed the effort. There’s been an absence of discussion or efforts to engage the public.
(On the other side of the aisle, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey also supports open presidential primaries, but there’s no drumbeat for change in the Arizona GOP, either.)
There are also deadline and financial challenges. One lawyer who specializes in election laws estimates a lawsuit could costs upwards of $250,000.
Why expend time and resources if you don’t believe in the cause?
Would voters sabotage the other side?
Party leadership’s silence provides no guidance about its qualms.
An obvious objection to inclusion is why extend membership privilege — selecting the party’s nomination for president — to individuals who don’t or won’t declare party affiliation?
Political operative Constantin Querard, in a recent response to an op-ed calling for open presidential primaries, went even further.
Querard, a Republican, envisioned attempts by both Republican and Democratic forces to enlist independents to help sabotage each other’s party nomination process. He equated it to allowing the LA Dodgers to pick the starting pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks when the two play.
Why open primaries make sense
That rationale rings hollow. Independents are already permitted to cast ballots in all other Republican and Democratic primaries in Arizona. There is no evidence of independents manipulating, or being manipulated, to influence the outcome of primary races.
If anything, the conflicting laws regarding independents’ ability to cast ballots in primaries — no in presidential primaries but yes in all others — represent the basis of one of their strongest arguments: Establish clear, consistent rules.
It would help some voters avoid casting ballots that don’t count. As in the 2016 presidential primary, when more than 18,000 independents who voted had their provisional ballots tossed. A number of others were turned away at the polls or left when told they could not vote.
Independents have other legitimate grievances with a closed presidential primary system, not the least of which is the millions of dollars in costs to carry out those primaries are borne by taxpayers and not the political parties.
At some point, the state Democratic Party — the Republican Party, too — will need to acknowledge if not accommodate 1.2 million independents, who account for one-third of registered voters
. A growing number are younger, untethered to party loyalty but open to be politically engaged.
The race for the presidency is the one that animates the electorate most. If independents are trusted to have a say in all other elections, primary or general, is there a reason to continue making presidential primaries an exception?
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