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Open Primaries

Suicide by Stupidity? Arizona Democrats Close the Presidential Primary

The Arizona Democratic Party voted down a resolution on September 21 to open the party’s presidential primaries in March to the state’s 1.3 million independent voters.

It could well end up being a case of suicide by stupidity.

The resolution was proposed by Adrian Fontes, the Maricopa County recorder, elected in 2016 to correct the many flaws, discrepancies and biases of the election system.

A series of lies and distortions about the cost of the litigation needed to implement the resolution had been widely circulated in the days leading up to the vote. Astronomical, they said. Hardly, since U.S. Supreme Court precedent would have made the case a slam dunk.

But make no mistake, Democrats will pay dearly.

Democrats need independents to win

Democrats need independents to win, both at the state level and nationally. Democrats squandered an opportunity to engage a public hungry for nonpartisan leaders – a hunger that has driven 41% of Latinos and 50% of millennials in Arizona to choose to not align with any political party.

It’s also worth noting that no one in the field of Democratic presidential candidates, all of whom were informed that their party had this opportunity to build a bridge to independents, stepped forward to support the resolution.

To the contrary. There were some reports that candidates had pressured the party to vote for the exclusion. This while the Arizona Republican Party canceled its presidential primary, leaving the door open to the Democrats to cast themselves as the party of inclusion and democracy.

It’s difficult to know whether this decision was merely a blind spot of epic proportions or a savage claim by the party’s old guard to control its turf. At the state committee meeting, it was younger members and many members of color who stood with Fontes, while he was shut down from the podium in the middle of his explanation of the resolution.

Florida is making similarly stupid moves

This affliction is not confined to Arizona.

On October 13th, the Florida Democratic Party will hold its statewide meeting. Several months ago, the Miami-Dade County Democrats passed a resolution calling for the party to open its presidential primary to independent voters. Other county organizations followed suit.

But then the state party leadership decided to amend the resolution, dictating only that independents be allowed to re-register only as Democrats on the day of the election.

Asking the state committee to vote on this amended resolution is a fraud (and farce), given the party has no authority to change voter registration laws. In other words, they refused to make the democratizing change they have the power to do.

They chose instead to create a fig leaf they have no power to enact. That is hypocrisy, plain and simple.

No wonder voters want independence

At a national level, independent voters are determining the outcomes of elections. They propelled Barack Obama to his party’s nomination and the presidency in 2008. A majority voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Then they gave Democrats control of the House in 2018 by a 12-point margin.

Uncategorizable by traditional ideological metrics, independents share a deeply held desire for something other than the partisan status quo.

The current showdown in Washington over a possible impeachment of the president, whatever its outcome, will highlight the extent to which our government is being held hostage by partisan interests on both sides. This abuse of power is what drives independents to be independents. And the longer the parties try to keep us at bay, the more devastating the consequences.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Opinion section of the Arizona Republic on October 3, 2019.

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