Gov. Doug Ducey will get the final say on whether to move Arizona’s primary election, which is among the latest in the United States, a few weeks earlier.
On a 24-2 vote, the Senate on Thursday gave final approval to Senate Bill 1154, which shifts the primary election from the end of August to the first Tuesday of the month. If Ducey signs the bill, the 2020 primary will be on Aug. 4 instead of Aug. 25.
The Senate previously approved SB1154 in March on a 28-2 vote. The chamber to vote on it a second time because the House of Representatives amended it to allow candidates to keep signatures to qualify for the ballot that they collected on petitions with the old primary date. The House approved the bill on Tuesday.
Proponents of the change argue that Arizona’s primary is too late in the year, giving the winners little time to introduce themselves to voters for the general election. Some feel that candidates who are uncontested in their primaries enter the short general election season relatively unknown and don’t have enough time to properly campaign.
Others have argued that candidates with uncontested primaries have an advantage over opponents who enter the general election season after weathering months of attacks and depleting their funding in bruising primary fights.
Critics of SB1154, on the other hand, have noted that an early August primary would occur when many voters are out of town for the summer. That would be especially true of college students who are registered to vote at their college residence, but won’t have returned from their summer break by the first Tuesday of August.
Some have argued that the primary date should be moved up earlier than August, though many lawmakers have opposed such a change because it would leave them less time to campaign after the end of the legislative session. Lawmakers are also prohibited from collecting campaign contributions from lobbyists during the session.
Under the bill, candidates would also have less time to collect signatures to qualify for the ballot. Currently, candidates must submit their nomination petitions no less than 90 days before the primary election. SB1154 would move that deadline to no less than 120 days before the primary.
Arizona’s primary elections for state and federal offices have been held in late August since 2010. Prior to that, primaries were in early September.
In 2018, only six states had primary elections for their state races as late or later than Arizona’s Aug. 28 election, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That includes New York, which, unlike Arizona and most other states, has separate primary elections for state and federal races, with the federal election coming earlier, and Louisiana, which holds its primary election for most offices on the day of the nationwide general election under its unique “top-two” system.
Under SB1154, Arizona’s primary election would still be among the country’s latest. Had Arizona’s 2018 primary been held on the first Tuesday of August, it would have moved ahead of an additional seven states, and would have been on the same day as four others, according to NCSL.