Prop 121 pushes for fair representation of all political parties on election ballot
A push for Arizona’s elected officials and candidates to represent and cater to all citizens, regardless of political party, will be on the ballot in this year’s general election.
The Open Elections/Open Government Act, known as Proposition 121, would amend Arizona’s current primary system and allow a top two primary where all candidates, regardless of party, will be put on the same ballot. The two candidates with the most votes would then move on to the general elections.
Ted Downing, a social development professor in the Arizona Research Laboratories, wrote the first draft of the bill with the intent to increase representation for all citizens, not just those who belong to one of the two major political parties. In Arizona, 33 percent of registered voters identify themselves as independent, according to the State of Arizona Registration Report issued by the Arizona Secretary of State.
“So the public is not being defined by a two-party system, but we’re electing candidates for office in a partisan primary system that benefits the two parties,” said Tom Milton, the initiative’s campaign manager. “So you have a million independents out there that we feel are disenfranchised.”
Milton added that the system doesn’t accurately represent the voters, and that with so many voters identifying as independent, Arizona should have independents in office.
“When one third of the voters in Arizona choose a status and you don’t see a single independent elected official on the state level, that should tell you that the system isn’t serving the voters,” he said.
Neither the Democratic or Republican Party in Arizona have endorsed the proposition, said Erik Lundstrom, the president of the UA Young Democrats and the Young Democrats of Arizona and a political science senior. Lundstrom added that a top-two primary system disenfranchises a party’s right to assemble.
“For independents to be catered to in a primary, it doesn’t make sense to me, because it’s the party’s deal. The party is deciding which candidate it wants,” Lundstrom said. “This system would allow independents to almost dictate that process.”
Downing said that a small change in the Arizona primaries could lead to a big change on the federal level. If the proposition passes in November, Arizona would be the third state with a top-two primary, following California and Washington. Together, the three states have 77 congressmen in Washington, D.C.
“If we succeed in a few weeks, there will be 77 members of the U.S. Congress that are beholden to all the voters no matter what their party, if they want to return to office,” Downing said. “That changes the temperature of Washington, D.C.”
Downing added that “three states can change America” and that Arizona has a chance to be one of the necessary states to make that change.
Zoey Kotzambasis, president of the UA College Republicans, said that while Arizona could see some changes on a local level if an open primary system is adopted, it won’t make much difference on a national level. People will continue to vote either Democrat or Republican regardless of the way the primary is set up, Kotzambasis said.
“I think in areas that are more diverse politically, I think it’s going to kill any third party’s chances of getting elected,” Kotzambasis said. “I don’t think that just by having an open primary like that it’s necessarily going to encourage independent or any third party candidate.”
The argument that candidates will try to reach out to all voters rather than catering only to those of their political party is unrealistic, Lundstrom said. Kotzambasis added that if the top two vote-earners are of the same party, it might cause division within that party.
“That argument almost seems like living in an idealist world,” Lundstrom said. “You might just have to out-Republican yourself in the general election if you’re running against another Republican.”
Still, Downing said the act will make voters a priority in the state, rather than the current system in which political parties come first, followed by the candidates and then the voters.
“Our intention was to make sure that we empowered the voters,” Downing said. “The candidates will be candidates, so if they look funny today they’ll look funny tomorrow. But who they go to looking for votes is going to change.”
Tucson is currently the only city that has partisan primaries at the city level. If the proposition is passed, Tucson will have to reorganize its municipal election to an open primary like the rest of Arizona’s cities.