Virtual Discussion: Can One of the Nation's Biggest Political Battlegrounds Lead the Way on Pro-Voter Reform?

Created: 14 December, 2023
Updated: 19 January, 2024
2 min read

Photo Credit: Arizona Department of Transportation / Flickr


Any substantial change to how US voters elect their representatives must start from a fundamental principle. For former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson this fundamental principle is that all voters should have an equal and meaningful voice in the electoral process. 

In Open Primaries' latest virtual discussion, OP President John Opdycke sat down with Johnson to discuss a coalition he, Chuck Coughlin, and Sara Smallhouse worked on for several years to create: Save Democracy AZ.

Johnson explains that the coalition started as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Save Democracy. The group did extensive research into different ways elections could better serve Arizona voters by looking at different reform models all over the country.

What Johnson and the others concluded was that any change to elections to make them better, more accountable, and less divisive had to begin with primaries. All voters need a voice in the primaries, and all candidates should be given an opportunity to participate.

Save Democracy AZ proposes an initiative that would open primary elections to independent voters, who make up approximately a third of the electorate in Arizona, in state, federal, and presidential elections all at the same time.

But the approach for state and federal elections is a bit different from the presidential election.

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For state and federal elections, the initiative requires a nonpartisan primary system in which all voters and candidates participate on a single ballot. It would then be up to the legislature to decide if this nonpartisan system is top-two, top-four, top-five, etc.

For presidential primaries, since Arizona rightfully calls these elections preference elections, the initiative requires the major parties to allow independent voters to participate. If they don't, then taxpayers will not foot the bill for the elections. The cost will fall on the parties. 

"Today, the unaffiliated voter and the independent voter are forced to subsidize the presidential primaries, but yet they can't participate in them in any meaningful way," said Johnson. "The answer is if you want taxpayer money then you simply have to be open to independent and unaffiliated voters to participate."

It is a comprehensive approach to provide fairer primary elections that voters do not often see. Opdycke and Johnson dive deep into the initiative and the fundamental issues at hand in their conversation. Watch the full discussion above. 

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