For months we have been hearing that a small group of disgruntled political consultants and power-hungry politicians would be releasing their plan to scrap our century-old primary and general election system in favor of a confusing jungle primary/ranked choice voting scheme that will disenfranchise voters and empower special interests.
Well last week a group called “Save Democracy Arizona” rolled out their proposed election reform ballot initiative, and it is about as dysfunctional a plan as what we expected.
Reading through their proposed constitutional amendment, a sprawling 4 pages of poorly written language drafted in secret, it is abundantly clear that this won’t make elections any more transparent or fair except for the special interests who support it. And it does far more to disenfranchise voters and destroy democracy than actually save it.
The first major change included in the proposed initiative is the creation of a jungle primary. If this sounds familiar, that may be because California uses a jungle primary system. That’s right, we are now importing California solutions to “fix” our electoral process. Plus, voters in Arizona overwhelmingly rejected a jungle primary ballot measure a decade ago.
Under a jungle primary, every candidate—Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, No Label Party, and Independents—would now appear on the same “primary election” ballot. The winners of the primary then would advance to the general election.
Who gets to decide who the primary winner is? The legislature, who can allow as little as two and as many as eight candidates to advance to the general. If they decide to allow three or more, the legislature must then allow for the ranking of those candidates—thus implementing Ranked Choice Voting (RCV).
So, the measure includes both California-stye jungle primaries and Alaska-style ranked choice voting, all built on the same baseless and flawed complaints about our election system that they have been making for years.
They argue that primary elections result in divisiveness, leading to a small fraction of the most partisan voters determining the outcome of elections. But California Democrats quickly learned the same was true for Jungle Primaries after their voters enacted it, where candidates from only one party advance to the general election ballot in some races, stripping voters of any choice at all.
On top of this, Jungle Primary proponents argue that independent voters (now a third in Arizona) don’t have a voice in the process. But independents do get to vote in our primary elections now, they just have to decide whether they want to vote in the Republican or the Democrat primary – not both. Plus, Independent candidates get to bypass a primary election altogether, collecting more signatures but then advancing straight to the general election ballot—a pathway that partisan candidates can’t pursue.
Finally, one third of voters being “independent” means that two thirds, a supermajority, do associate with a political party. So, this whole multimillion dollar effort to completely change our elections is purportedly built on a block of voters, in the extreme minority, that campaigns spend significant amounts of time and money courting in every election.
In other words, these voters are not ignored, and they do have a voice—arguably an outsized one. The truth is that Jungle Primaries and RCV aren’t for independents. They’re for special interests who can’t win elections without changing the system.
The good news is that despite months and months of planning, the proponents are divided and have split. Just days after Save Democracy filed “Make Elections Fair,” Voter Choice AZ announced they will not be supporting it and will instead move forward with filing their own initiative.
For either to be successful, they’ll need to compete to raise millions to collect the necessary 383,923 signatures, plus a couple hundred thousand safety net. And then they will have to convince voters to support it—voters who have been hearing about the problems of RCV for months.
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