Open the Prez. Primaries
EYES ON 2020
By Al Bell & Tim Castro
As Arizona Secretary of State, Katie Hobbs is the senior State elections official. Her Elections Division advises that Arizona statutes require voters to register with a “recognized” party to vote in the Presidential Preference Election (PPE), which means 1.25 million independents will be barred.
Private political parties can decide to allow independent voters to vote on their PPE ballot just by deciding to do so.
Until recently, having a serious conversation with the party power structure in Arizona about voting rights for independents could not have happened. It is happening now to an astonishing degree, with Tim Castro ably opening doors and coordinating our outreach.
Independent Voters for Arizona and Independent Voting advocates have been holding serious conversations with key elected and Democratic Party leaders. They have been highly positive, though not yet conclusive.
State Senator Martin Quezada proposed legislation to permit independent voters to vote in the PPE. While it went nowhere, he met with us, encouraged our endeavors, and shared important insights. We met Katie Hobbs, who clearly supported our cause and appreciated information about the 1986 Supreme Court decision.
One of our most outspoken allies is Adrian Fontes, Maricopa County Recorder, who is in charge of elections in the fastest growing county in the U.S., with 4.4 million of Arizona’s estimated 7 million people. He is actively involved in promoting our case to Democratic leadership, recently declaring, “Including non-party voters in our Presidential Preference Elections is a no-brainer. I'm completely dedicated to making this happen so that we can continue to engage more Americans in our democracy. I'm going to work with state and local officials and party folks to try to make this a reality in 2020."
Felecia Rotellini chairs the Arizona Democratic Party. In late May, our team sat down with the chair, Quiana Dickenson, the Political Director, and Kelly Paisley, the Chief of Staff. Advocating for the importance of opening the PPE at a time when 40% of the Latino community in Arizona are independent was Danny Ortega, an attorney, a Democrat, and immediate past Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Council of La Raza. It was a fruitful discussion that added to the growing conversation inside the party.
Arizona will be a pivotal state in 2020. Independent voters are more numerous than Democrats and slightly fewer than Republicans. Perhaps the most watched Senate campaign in the nation pits Mark Kelly against Martha McSally.
The Arizona Republican Party is planning to cancel their PPE altogether. We are going to continue to press the Democratic Party through our postcard campaign, letters and meetings. This spring, two ASU students – Guy Tiano and McKenzie Sadeghi – penned an op-ed in the Arizona Capitol Times about independents being “silenced” in the PPE. It has been circulated widely.
Our second op-ed in the Arizona Capitol Times penned by Al Bell is in its third week of posting, and has provoked much discussion, including an opposing op-ed by Republican activist Constantin Querard.
We have a strong leadership team in Al Bell, Tim Castro, Denny Flaherty, and Cathy Stewart from the national office, and a growing network of activists. Stay tuned!
Click here for a PDF of the EYES ON 2020 Interim Report.
Our 2016 Campaign
Independent Voters for Arizona and Open Primaries Arizona held a joint press conference on Monday, February 22nd, the final day in which independents could re-register into a party in order to vote in the Presidential Preference Election.
Tim Castro kicked off the press conference -- which drew statewide media coverage (links provided below) -- with a forceful statement about the shortcomings of the solution offered by the state of Arizona to the 1.2 million voters who can't vote in the Presidential preference election because they are independents.
"Number one, why should independents be required to RE-registered in order to vote? Number two, only a few thousand HAVE re-registered, a drop in the bucket of the 1.2 million independents in the state. Number three, why should the Presidential primary be the occasion for the parties to capture independents -- which everyone wants and everyone needs to win elections -- as opposed to respecting independents for who they are and granting independents full access to the political process without having to join a the party to achieve that?"
Amanda Melcher, Outreach Coordinator for Independent Voters for Arizona, spoke passionately about the need for millennial voters to be included in the political process as who they are -- a fiercely independent sector of the electorate.
"In Arizona, 50.5% of all voters under the age of 30 are registered independent," stated Melcher. "That's two hundred seventy six thousand, nine hundred and thirty-five voters. Typically, what you hear about millennial voters is that our turnout is low, and, were it higher, we would be more impactful. Remove the barriers so that independents can vote without having to change their registration - then we can talk turnout."
Representative Ken Clark stopped by to express his support for independent inclusion in the Presidential primaries. Two weeks ago, when a bill to defund the Presidential preference elections came before the state legislature, Rep. Clark offered an amendment that would have allowed independents to participate. That proposal was rejected on a party-line vote with Republicans in opposition. The bill to defund the Presidential preference election was introduced at the request of the Secretary of State Michele Reagan who agress with us that elections that exclude the largest community of voters in the state should not receive taxpayer funding.
Armida Lopez of Open Primaries Arizona, spoke about the independence of Arizona's Latino community in her remarks at our joint press conference Monday.
"Nowhere is our election system in Arizona is the discrimination against independents more blatant than in the Presidential Preference elections, which is closed to independents. That means that close to 41% of Latino voters in our state cannot participate. That must change. We need all of our citizens to have equal access to voting. My community wants a fair opportunity to participate in shaping who our next President will be without being coerced into joining a political party."
Patrick McWhortor, campaign director of Open Primaries Arizona, underscored how the current solution "undermine(s) their commitment to being independent by requiring them to change their voter registration to a political party. This is the most sweeping voter suppression effort we have seen in recent history in America - the deliberate exclusion of independent voters."
Speaking to an NPR reporter, Deb Gain-Braley remarked, "I think that no one should have to choose a party to vote in America. So I went looking to see if there were any other organizations arguing against what's going on." (Audio here)
NPR ran a national version of this story as well (listen here).
Take a moment to read some of the press coverage.
- Independents Seek Voice in Arizona Presidential Primary - Capital Times
- Independents: Let us vote in Presidential Primaries - Arizona Republic
- Arizona Independents Continue Fight to Open Presidential Primaries (Fox 10 News Note: starts at 1:30 into the segment)
- Arizona Independents Push for More Rights at Polls - NPR
- Tim Castro - Independent Voters for Arizona
- Patrick McWhortor - Open Primaries Arizona
- Amanda Melcher - Millennial Independents (Indys4AZ) Voters for Arizona
- Armida Lopez - Open Primaries Arizona
LETTER TO THE CHAIRS OF ARIZONA'S DEMOCRATIC AND REPUBLICAN PARTIES
Arizona's Democrat and Republican Parties Should
Open Their Presidential Primaries to Independents
Ms. Alexis Tameron and Mr. Robert Graham,
We write to you as the Democratic and Republican Party Chairs, respectively, of our state.
We, the undersigned, are Arizona voters concerned about the process in which our Presidential Primaries will be held on March 22, 2016. The election of the next President of the United States is the most important exercise of democracy in our nation.
Independent voters from across the state desire to be fully included in this process. However, currently in Arizona, independents are barred from participating in the Presidential Primaries.
Unlike our state primaries, where as a result of voter initiative, independents are permitted to request a party ballot and thereby vote, the Democratic and Republican parties of Arizona have decided to close the Presidential Primary to the 37% of Arizona voters who are independents. The net effect is that over 1,219,000 voters and 50% of Hispanic voters in our state will be denied a voice in this election.
It is our strong belief that no Arizona voter should be forced to join a political party in order to be able to vote. In many states around the country, independents are welcomed into the Presidential Primary process.
We write today to request that you open the Democratic and Republican Presidential Primaries in Arizona to the largest and fastest growing community of voters in our state - independents.
You have the power to do so. You can act to realize the full democratic participation of all Arizonans.
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