Maricopa County, Arizona, is not necessarily known for its open-mindedness, mainly thanks to its notoriously hard-on-crime sheriff, Joe Arpaio.
Now, the county’s Democratic chair, Ann Wallack, has made her opposition to open primaries public via Twitter. On Sunday she casually tweeted, “[In my honest opinion] most independents are not independent thinkers; they are just bored with politics. So I’m against Open Primaries. Why cater to them?”
Arizona is set to vote on Proposition 121 in November, which would instate a top-two open primary system. In early surveying, the initiative has received ample support, particularly among independent voters. The top-two system was passed last year in California, disrupting the status quo there, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
The top-two system allows two candidates of the same party to run against each other, as well as allows voters to cast their ballot for any candidate in the primaries, regardless of party registration. The focus of races thus turns from partisanship to a candidate’s track record and platform. This also levels the playing field for independent and third party candidates, as well as gives independent voters a more definitive voice at the ballot box.
There is no evidence that voters who do not register with a party are disinterested in politics. In fact, independent voters make up 40% of registered voters, not an insignificant number -- and it seems that they’ll matter a great deal in this year’s election.
In another interesting twist, Matt Jette, who won the primary in Arizona’s 6th Congressional District, which encompasses Maricopa County, left his party last month citing dissatisfaction. He will now be running as an independent. Although his name will still appear on the ballot as “Democrat,” he hopes his decision will attract Republicans who are disenchanted with their party.
While Maricopa County votes heavily Republican, 33% of registered voters are independents and could indeed upset the projections in the district. Wallack may believe that catering to independent voters is pointless, but it certainly seems like it could be increasingly important, even in the most conservative or most liberal of areas.