Testimony before the Committee on Elections
Posted by Caroline Donnola on March 28, 2016 at 3:15 PM
Amanda Melcher of Independent Voters for Arizona, testified today before the Arizona State Legislature Election Committee on the systemic failures of last Tuesday's presidential primary election. Below is her full testimony.
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Madame Chair, members of the committee:
I am Amanda Melcher, representative of Independent Voters for AZ.
As we’ve heard, last Tuesday’s debacle was influenced by many factors: lack of oversight from the Sec of State, lack of funding from the Governor and Legislature, and lack of planning from the County Elections Director. I am here to speak to a more fundamental and insidious issue: the willful suppression of the largest portion of the Arizona electorate.
Independent and unaffiliated voters are often presented as an apathetic, disinterested group. As we saw Tuesday, this assumption is grossly ignorant of the realities on the ground. Thousands of independents did turn out, waited on lines for hours, only to be told they did not have the right to vote. This voter suppression impacts millenial voters----50.5% of registered Arizonans under 30 are independent, and deeply impacts the minority community as well, since 41% of Latino voters in Arizona are registered independent.
Those of us who choose not to identify with any of the recognized parties now are the largest bloc of voters in the state - 1.2 million people, or 37% of the electorate. This is not a fluke, nor a passing trend: not only are first time voters overwhelmingly choosing not to join a party, more experienced voters are actively disengaging with the parties they’ve so long identified with.
Just because we are disengaging from the parties does not mean that we want to disengage from the system. Independents want to vote; we want to have a voice and influence. But current law bars us, or else makes us jump through hoops. The Presidential Preference Election is especially egregious, as it is the only election in Arizona that is completely closed to unaffiliated voters.
The right to vote is a core value. The idea that one is NOT ALLOWED to vote is anachronistic and out of place in 2016. Any attempt to complicate the process of voting betrays the ideals of our nation.
For the past five months, Independent Voters for Arizona has forced the media and the state government-- from the Secretary of state to the legislature-- into a conversation about the fact that independents are being denied those rights.
We have drawn attention to the fact that, while we are all paying for this election, we are not all allowed to participate. Independents want more voting & more inclusion, and want our taxpayer dollars to work toward a full and robust democratic process.
We organized a campaign in which over 30,800 Arizonans sent letters and emails to the Republican and Democratic Party state chairs, urging them to open the primaries. It is within their power to do so, per Supreme Court ruling in the Democratic Party of United States v. Wisconsin in 1980 and Tashjian v. Republican Party of Connecticut in 1986, wherein the right of parties to determine the makeup of their primary elections was affirmed. Both party chairs refused to do so.
However, the blame cannot be laid only at the feet of these private organizations. We can look at HB 2647, and the failed amendment put forth by Rep. Clark that would have kept current funding for the PPE in place while also opening the primaries to all registered voters. Every Republican representative voted against that amendment. Following Tuesday, Governor Ducey called for “allowing independents to vote in presidential primaries, just as they vote in all other Arizona primaries.” Yet he was silent until this situation contributed to the crisis at the polls on Tuesday. The Governor has shown the ability to quickly pass legislation when it is his priority. We urge him to make that his priority now.
There is no excuse for the continued suppression of Independent voters. We have the right to meaningfully participate in the great experiment that is American democracy. We are not going away, and we will not continue to be shut out.Madame chair and members, the election Tuesday showed the need for action and reform. You have the opportunity to do so this session. I urge you and your colleagues to act and to recognize the rights of all citizens.
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