We urge a "no" vote on Proposition 121, a well-intentioned but flawed proposal to change the way Arizona conducts elections.
The proposition would scrap party primaries in favor of a single primary in which the top two vote getters for every open seat would advance to the general election.
The theory behind Proposition 121 is that candidates would have to appeal to voters across the spectrum, including the large and growing number of independent voters. The current primary system, supporters argue, features a small turnout of ideologically driven voters who choose candidates at the extremes - very conservative Republicans and very liberal Democrats.
We believe the primary system needs to be reformed, but this isn't the way to do it. Proposition 121 would have unintended consequences and be gamed by the two major parties.
One likely consequence is that there would be fewer candidates. The Democratic Party, for instance, wouldn't want to have five primary candidates in a race against two Republicans because of the risk that the five would split votes and none would end up in the top two. We envision a situation in which the major parties work behind closed doors to persuade possible candidates to stay out of a race. Fewer candidates isn't our idea of choice.
Another example is this bit of gamesmanship: One party (or a powerful private lobby) puts up sham candidates who belong to the other party in name only. The goal, again, is to get them to split votes to keep everyone from the opposition from landing in the top two and advancing to the general election.
Then there are the Greens and Libertarians. Right now they hold their own primaries and frequently advance candidates to the general-election ballot. Their chances of winning are slim, but at least in the fall - when the most voters are paying attention - they have a platform to get their message out and perhaps build support over time. In a top-two primary, it's unlikely that a minor-party candidate will ever advance to the general election.
Proposition 121 does include reforms that are long overdue in this era of growing independent-voter registration. The deck is stacked against an independent in even getting on the ballot. As an example, aspiring Republican candidates must obtain 5,600 signatures to run for statewide office. Democrats need 4,700. Independents must round up 31,000.
The proposition also would eliminate the free access to voter-registration rolls that only organized parties get.
As much as we favor parts of this proposal, we believe it is too easily manipulated and will result in fewer choices. We say "no" to Proposition 121.
Arizona Daily Star