Western Free Press: The Costs of an Arizona Top Two Primary

This excerpt was posted on Western Free Press:

Arizona’s Top Two or Jungle Primary is bad for Arizonans. It is bad for the health of our election system. It removes voter choice.

This November could bring major changes to Arizona’s primary process as groups within the state push for a ballot initiative to join states like Louisiana, Washington, and California in utilizing a “top two” primary format.

The major reasoning for the top two system is the idea that it draws out independent voters who pass on primary season and that having the general population vote across party lines will weed out extremists on both ends of the political spectrum.

The facts, however, just don’t add up. In other top two states there has been little movement toward moderate results and minimal gains in turnout. In fact, the only major results from the shift are that party leaders work harder than ever to determine who is in and who is out, while the cost of running successful campaigns has skyrocketed.

Instead of appealing to the party’s core for support, candidates must now fork out precious campaign funds to draw opposing party centrist voters while also going on the offensive against a whole new crop of foes from across the aisle.  This lends itself to greater involvement and influence from special interest groups who feel they can get more bang for their buck.

At the same time, party leadership feels like spreading themselves thin on the primary ballot opens them up to failure by the party as a whole.  This leads to backroom deals and preseason arm-twisting to field a smaller number of party favorites.

In this case, the negatives clearly outweigh the benefits. Arizona needs to vote in November to keep primary elections fair and accessible.


Arizona Republic: Top-two primary no magic pill

This article was written in the Arizona Republic:

by Robert Robb

A little honesty and sobriety about the top-two primary system initiative that apparently will be on the November ballot is in order.

The purpose of the initiative should be stated plainly and bluntly: It is to reduce the influence of conservative Republicans in Arizona.

The rhetoric used to sell it will be more lofty. There will be a pretense of deploring extremism on both sides of the political divide.

But what’s driving the initiative isn’t a concern that the Democrats who get elected in Arizona are too liberal. It’s a call-to-arms reaction to a bone-deep belief that the Republicans who run Arizona are too conservative.

According to proponents, the top-two primary system is the magic pill that will put an end to that. The Arizona Legislature of some people’s nightmare will be a thing of the past. Replacing it will be the Arizona Legislature of their dreams – a place dominated by moderates, drinking tea while civilly pondering the future, intuiting bottom-up consensus on the issues of the day and enacting them into law.

We’ve been here before. Proponents have claimed that previous initiatives were the magic pill that would transform Arizona politics.

In 1998, it was allowing independents to vote in Arizona party primaries and public financing of campaigns. In 2000, it was an independent redistricting commission to draw the lines.

The result? Today, Arizona has the most conservative Legislature in its history.

Is there any reason to believe that the top-two primary system is a more potent magic pill?

Some. But not much.

Under the top-two primary system, all candidates irrespective of party affiliation run against each other in the primary.  The two candidates getting the most votes in the primary would run off against each other in the general election, again irrespective of party affiliation.

The theory is that voter participation in the primaries will go up, particularly among independents. Moderates will thus have a greater chance of getting to the general election ballot and winning.

Proponents of the top-two primary system have the mistaken belief that the distribution of political sentiment is a Bell Curve and they reside on its apex. Instead, the distribution of political sentiment is more like a straight line that tilts to the right.

The distribution of political intensity is more like a two-humped camel, bulging at the center of liberal and conservative viewpoints.

In a top-two primary system, there might be some increase in primary turnout among independents and moderates will have somewhat of a better chance of making it to a general election. But for the most part, the same people will probably be voting in the primary elections and choosing the same kind of candidates.

California recently held its first primary under the top-two system and voter turnout didn’t increase a bit.

If the Arizona initiative provided for true nonpartisan primaries, it would be unobjectionable irrespective of its consequences. When a third of Arizonans are opting out of the partisan political system by registering independent, it’s impossible to justify continued taxpayer-financed preferential ballot access for political parties.

But the Arizona initiative doesn’t provide for true nonpartisan primaries. Party labels are permitted on the primary election ballot. And then there is a goofy provision that permits candidates to make up their own party label for the ballot.

There will also be significant unintended consequences.  The party with more candidates in a primary is at a great disadvantage. So the parties will attempt to winnow the candidate field — not in an open, transparent primary, but outside the electoral process. While the target is conservative Republicans, Democrats are likely to be the big losers, with a real potential of not having candidates for statewide offices make it to the general election ballot.

While perhaps marginally more consequential, the two-top primary will probably prove another disappointing attempt to change election outcomes by changing the rules. There’s really no substitute for better candidates running better campaigns.

Arizona Republic: Arizona open-primary system is debated

This article appeared in the Arizona Republic:

by Mary Jo Pitzl

A bid to restructure Arizona’s primary elections would either neuter the state’s political parties or empower them, increase voter turnout or depress it, according to participants in a forum Wednesday that explored the “open primaries” concept.

The back-and-forth over the proposed Open Elections/Open Government Act is a likely preview of the debate that will play out this summer if the measure qualifies for the Nov. 6 ballot.

The proposal, the subject of an ongoing petition-signature drive, would put all the candidates for a given office on the same primary ballot. The top two vote-getters would advance to the general election. Candidates could run with a party label or opt to leave it out.

The proposal is similar to one California voters adopted two years ago, which will get its first test in next month’s primary election.

For Steve Peace, who shepherded the measure in California, an open-primary system revolves around the individual voter, not a political-party machine.

“At its core, it’s about a one-to-one relationship with your district,” Peace told a packed crowd at a forum sponsored by the O’Connor House, an organization started by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to drive civil discussion on public policy.

Peace said society is disenchanted with the traditional party structure, as witnessed by a rising tide of independent voters. These voters have nowhere to turn in the current system, in which parties hold their own primaries. Although Arizona allows independents to vote in primaries as long as they pick one partisan ballot and stick with it, few participate.

Peace said the open-primary system would mirror the shift in voter attitudes and increase turnout by letting everyone vote in a single primary.

But Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News, said such proposals make it even harder for minor parties, such as the Greens and Libertarians, to elect one of their own.

Washington state has not seen a significant increase in voter turnout even though voters there approved an open-primary system in 2004, he said.

Besides, a move to downplay partisan primaries violates a person’s right to free association, such as with a political party, Winger said.

Proponents of the measure were outside the event at Burton Barr Central Library collecting signatures. They must collect 259,213 registered voters’ signatures by July to qualify for the November ballot.

Western Free Press: Top-two primary will open the door for corruption

The following excerpt originated from Western Free Press:

The latest fad among activists looking to transform our election process is the “top-two” primary.  States like Washington, Louisiana and California have already adopted the process which does away with separate primaries for each party. Instead, candidates from all parties are placed on the same ballot where the top two vote-getters, regardless of affiliation, move on to the general election.

Besides the obvious concern that some voters will be left without any choice in the general election to represent their party and the fear that third-party candidates will essentially have no chance to succeed, a major point of concern on both sides of the aisle is corporate control of the elections.

The cost to run an effective primary campaign will necessarily skyrocket as candidates will now be forced to gain favor with opposition moderates while simultaneously fending off attacks from the other side of the aisle. Under such a system cash will be king, and it is a known fact that the earliest fundraising comes from corporate groups, unions, lobbyists, and special interests. Those candidates willing to bow, grovel, and beg to big business soonest will have a huge advantage.

Couple this corporate conspiring with the major parties need to limit the number of candidates it fields and all you get is more big government, big business control of our process.  In fact, states like California who have implemented the system have not even enjoyed a noticeable rise in political moderation or voter turnout, the two desired deliverables from the top-two system.

As Arizona votes on the initiative in November it is important to look back at the example of “Clean Elections.”  While there was opposition to that idea, we at least held hope it would limit corruption as no glaring threats were seen on the immediate horizon.  That program has been an epic failure on all accounts.  What then will be the outcome when all parties of traditional corruption are just waiting in the wings? The way to keep elections clean is to keep the top-two system out.

Western Free Press: Arizona Top Two Instant Runoff Not the Motivator Thought To Be

This post originated from Western Free Press:

Arizona’s Top Two or Jungle Primary initiative is bad for Arizona and voters. The election change robs voters of their choice and rewards big money interests.

In November, Arizona voters will decide whether or not to participate in an election systems experiment. The Open Government Committee proposed an initiative attempting to change Arizona’s election process from its current semi-closed primary to an instant runoff system, otherwise known as an open primary.

Currently, Arizona’s election process allows for any parties registered in Arizona to nominate a candidate for the general election through a semi-closed primary election. In the primary election, anyone with a declared party affiliation automatically receives a party specific ballot that allows him or her to nominate his or her party’s candidate. Independent and Party-Not-Determined voters are legally allowed to request a primary ballot for the party they desire, whether it be Republican, Democrat, or any other contested party primary. Nominated candidates meet in a general election where all registered voters can choose which candidate best represents their political principles.

The Open Government Committee’s proposed initiative replaces the semi-closed party primary system with an instant runoff system. All voters, regardless of their party affiliation, vote for any primary candidate, regardless of his or her party affiliation. The two candidates that receive the most votes move on to the general election.

Supporters of the initiative theorize that the new form of election will increase voter participation, especially amongst Independent and Party-Not-Determined voters. A main point of the theory contains that, without rigid party designations, Independents and Party-Not-Determined voters will be motivated to get more involved in the primary process. Other states that have implemented similar measures are not seeing the desired results.

In 2010, California passed instant runoff legislation, opening their primary process to all voters and candidates. Supporters hypothesized that voter participation would increase, and therefore democracy advanced. California has not produced the desired results. California’s voting history shows cyclical voting patterns dependent on candidates and issues. During the 2000 Primary, both Republicans and Democrats needed to nominate presidential candidates. Voter turnout during that primary election was 40.3%. In 2008, California found themselves in a similar situation, needing to nominate both parties’ presidential nominees. True to form, 40% of California voters turned out to the primary election.

The first data gathered since California’s recent election system change was the June 5, 2012 primary election. The 2012 Primary election was similar to the 2004 Primary election in that only one party needed to nominate a presidential candidate. While there are several minor differences, the primary election process was by far the biggest difference between these two elections. This was to be the first example of how an instant runoff system engages Independent and Party-Not-Determined voters, thus increasing voter turnout across every election, from federal to state to local. In the 2004 Primary election, California’s voter turnout was 31%. Similarly, in the 2012 Primary election, California’s voter turnout was 31%.

The theory that instant runoff primary elections increase voter participation does not look to be correct. Given California’s experience, the Open Government Committee’s initiative will fail in its desire to increase Independent and Party-Not-Determined voter participation.

Western Free Press: Top Ten Reasons to Vote “No” on the Arizona Top Two or Jungle Primary Initiative

This post originated from Western Free Press:

There are plenty of reasons to oppose Arizona’s Top Two or Jungle Primary initiative. Opposition to the jungle primary is bipartisan and has faced court challenges from both sides of the political spectrum. Below is the top ten reasons why Arizona’s Top Two or Jungle Primary proposal is bad for the state and bad for voter choice. If you want to learn more, please visit StopTopTwo.org for more educational information.

Top Ten Reasons for Opposing Arizona’s Top Two or Jungle Primary Initiative

10. It is Unconstitutional – A court case currently being fought in California pits a Democratic candidate who will not be in the General Election against two Republicans that were the highest vote getters in the “Top-Two” Primary. Democrats have had a choice in every election in the district since California entered the Union, until now.  Opponents argue “that the top-two open primary system is unconstitutional because it precludes third party voters from casting a ballot for their candidates of choice at the general election, prevents third party candidates from communicating their message to general election voters via the ballot, and denies third parties in general the ability to reach general election voters.” What happened to having your vote count or having voter choice?

9. It Shuts Out Third Parties – In California, of the 54 Federal offices up for election, only 4 of the elections will have a choice other than Democrat or Republican. Of the 98 State offices up for election, only 4 of the elections will have a choice other than Democrat or Republican. 26.4% of California voters are not Democrats or Republicans, yet they are only represented in 7.4% of Federal elections and 4.1% in State elections. Third parties are left out of the General Election. Again, election laws should increase our choices and not diminish them, something the Top Two system will do.

8. It Limits Choices – With party primaries, each legitimate party nominates their own candidate. In Arizona, this allows for general elections voters to choose between up to five candidates instead of just two. The “Jungle” Primary limits the general electorates’ choices. It is also possible that the two choices that you are presented will not actually represent your values as a voter.

7. It Leads to Corruption – Tammany Hall-type politics will run rampant. Without party leadership to steer the nomination process, conglomerate special interests will be given more power to pick winners. If you think big money interests have too much power in politics now, you just wait if Arizona adopts a Top Two or Jungle Primary system.

6. It Increases Money’s Involvement in Politics – In a party primary process, candidates focus their message and money on a limited voter population for the Primary Election, and then a comprehensive voter population for the General Election. In a “Jungle Primary,” candidates must focus their message and money on a comprehensive voter population in both the Primary and General Elections. This increases the amount of money required to run in both the Primary and the General Election, and thus increases Money’s involvement in politics.

5. It Kills Good Candidates Chances – Candidates not willing to get involved with big machine politics will have no chance of winning. Candidates unable to spend 33% or more on campaigns will not have a chance of winning. “Instant Runoff” Primaries ruin good candidates chances of winning. Plus, candidates with new ideas, often breaking with their political party’s orthodoxy, will likely be discouraged to run because of the increased difficulty to win.

4. Enables Politicians, Not Leaders – Politicians often pander to whatever room of people they are in. Many voters distrust politicians for this reason. Top Two or Jungle Primary elections require candidates to pander to larger groups of diverse voters, instead of taking principled stands on issues and leading in the respective districts.

3. It Allows for David Duke Type Candidates – Louisiana enacted the “Jungle” Primary system in 1977. In a 1989 special election, Duke, a known member of the Ku Klux Klan and the founder of the National Association for the Advancement of White People, received the highest total votes in the “Jungle Primary.” How irritating would it be if you were forced to vote for two David Duke type candidates when you knew a majority of voters never wanted those candidates in the first place?

2. It Enables Voter Deceit – Corrupt candidates can game the election system for their or their preferred party benefit. We have seen our share of fake political candidates in Arizona. “Top-Two” Primaries makes voter deceit much easier. In fact, under the current proposed change, the candidate is not even required to prove or even announce their party affiliation. Arizona voters would just have to take the candidate’s word for it.

1. It Does Not Work! – The Top Two or Jungle Primary system fails in its claimed attempts to moderate candidates and improve Independent voter participation. Voters are not against progress or making our election system better, but just because something is proposed does not mean it actually works. In fact, this proposal makes things much worse for the voters of Arizona.

If you support voter choice, you will oppose Arizona’s Top Two or Jungle Primary proposal.