Sadiq and Dana Daniels cross the street after voting at the Surprise Court House polling location on Nov. 3, 2020, in Surprise, Ariz. Photo by Christian Petersen | Getty Images
Far-right lawmakers are hoping Arizonans will vote to prohibit ranked-choice voting in 2024, aiming to cripple the efforts of voter organizations to put the system up for consideration on the same ballot.
Last week, House Concurrent Resolution 2033 was approved via a party line vote, with the staunch opposition of Democrats, and sent to the secretary of state for placement on the 2024 ballot. If voters approve, it would modify the Arizona Constitution by forcing all partisan state, county and city positions to be determined with a direct primary model. In a direct primary, voters choose one candidate from each political party to advance to the general election.
“If you are running for the state legislature and the state house, you get to send two people to the state house. You get to send one person to the state senate. You get one secretary of state choice and you get one for the governor,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Austin Smith, R-Wittman, during a Senate Elections Committee hearing on March 20.
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The constitution currently enshrines direct primaries into law but if voters approve the amendment proposed by legislators, the direct primary method would supersede and shoot down any local attempts to experiment with a conflicting voting system, like ranked-choice.
“With this (resolution), we are preempting the ability of local, political subdivisions from holding elections in a certain format that they may see fit for their own political locality,” said Sen. Priya Sundareshan, D-Tucson, on March 20.
Tucson and Phoenix, both of which hold partisan citywide elections, registered as opposed to the measure.
In the ranked-choice system, voters rank their top five candidates from most to least preferred. Once all the votes are tallied, if no candidate wins the majority of the votes, a new round of counting occurs. The candidate who earned the fewest votes is dropped and the second-ranked choices from the voters who selected the eliminated candidate are tallied. The process continues until a winner is determined.
The proposal to cement the direct primary format across the state is a preemptive move from the legislature’s ultra-conservative Arizona Freedom Caucus, of which Smith is a member, to block the upcoming plans of voter advocacy organizations. Voter Choice Arizona and Save Democracy Arizona are spearheading a 2024 ballot initiative that would put to voters the question of whether or not to implement open primaries and the ranked-choice method.
Last month, the caucus held a press conference to denounce that plan, and members, including Austin himself, have authored bills to explicitly ban ranked-choice voting in the Grand Canyon State. Among their criticisms was that the system is too confusing for voters, and results in a drawn-out process in which the ultimate winner often doesn’t earn the first-place, and thus, unequivocal support of voters. Proponents of the method argue that it results in a less fractious political process and lends greater weight to general elections in a state whose races are often determined by the primary stage, with the participation of a small, highly partisan share of the electorate. In the 2022 midterms, only five of the state legislature’s general elections were considered truly competitive.
While the bills to ban the voting method outright have failed to garner Democratic support and are likely headed for Gov. Katie Hobbs’ veto stamp, the resolution circumvented her office because it amends the constitution and can only be approved or rejected by the state’s voters.
During a final vote on the resolution on March 28, Sundareshan warned fellow lawmakers that it represented an unwarranted intervention into local activities.
“Our (cities) have methods for regulating their processes and there’s no need for the entire state to have to weigh in on the way our cities conduct their own elections,” she said. “What we should be doing is allowing the laboratories of democracy to participate as the laboratories of democracy.”
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