Secretary of State Ken Bennett recently announced that independent voters now constitute the largest voting bloc in the state of Arizona. According to the Bennett, registered independents slightly outnumber registered Republicans and have for several years outnumbered registered Democrats.
Although there are multiple reasons why voters are leaving the political parties, the extreme partisanship and dysfunction that prevails in Phoenix (and Washington) is likely an important factor.
Most Arizona legislative districts are “safe” districts, which contain safe majorities of Republican or Democratic voters. In safe districts, the winning candidate is almost always selected in the party’s primary election, in which a small percentage of voters actually participate. The voters who do participate tend to be among the most ideological members of the party to the far left or right on the political spectrum.
Any politician who dares to reach across party lines in an attempt to find a bipartisan solution to a political problem is likely to be targeted by the party faithful in the next primary election.
For those of us in the middle of the political spectrum it seems like no one is really representing us.
Despite being the largest voting bloc in Arizona, there is not a single independent in the state Legislature. A likely reason is that independents have to play by a different set of rules than candidates affiliated with political parties.
Independents are required to obtain a far greater number of signatures from voters in their district to make the ballot (1 percent of registered voters of the party vs. 3 percent of all registered voters).
Political parties are provided free access to voter registration lists, while independents typically have to pay for the lists.
Independent candidates receive only 70 percent of the clean election funding that partisan candidates receive in state and legislative races, and by state law independents must be listed last on the ballot.
However, a primary system that tilts in favor of partisan candidates is not the only reason that independents are marginalized. Independents are allowed to pick either party’s primary ballot and vote in its primary election, but very few nonpartisan voters actually exercise this right.
This means that the most extreme candidate usually wins the primary election and there are no moderate choices available in the general election.
Independent voters who are tired of partisan politics and legislation that polarizes us rather than solves our problems can have a huge influence on both the candidates who participate in the general election and the issues they address simply by voting in the primary election. If your interest is your district’s senator or representative and you are in a “safe district,” try the primary ballot of the dominant party.
If you are interested in the governor’s race, there are multiple candidates in the Republican primary with different agendas and positions.
If enough voters participate in primary elections, the odds increase that we will have a real choice in the general election and that bipartisanship will be rewarded rather than punished.