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Guest opinion

Indie voters silenced in primary now being heard loud and clear

Despite thousands of Maricopa County voters standing in line for hours on end to cast a ballot in Tuesday's presidential preference election primary, many of their votes won't count in the final tallies.

That's because when it comes to voting for a presidential candidate in Arizona, the primaries are closed to independents.

Many Arizona independents didn't know this fact. So, when they didn't get a ballot in the mail, many independents figured they'd just show up at the polls like they usually can in primaries and simply request a Republican or Democratic ballot.

But presidential preference primaries are exclusively a political party affair in Arizona, even though the state underwrites them. Independents could vote in this partisan primary only if they had changed their party registration at least 29 days beforehand.

Many Arizona independents didn't get the memo. Instead, they waited in line for hours and hours to get what's called a provisional ballot, which in this case translates into a placebo ballot because they have no impact and legally cannot be officially counted.

With provisional ballots, independents might have felt as if they actually had voted – and they did, but they didn't. Not really anyway.

That irony was not lost on Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who despite being the state's top Republican saw what he believed to be an unfair rule by the major political parties that runs counter to an open and engaged democracy. And he's calling for change to end what many see as yet another form of voter suppression.

"That means allowing independents to vote in presidential primaries, just as they vote in all other Arizona primaries," the governor said. "A big part of yesterday's problem was registered voters showing up, and being told they couldn't vote. That's just wrong. If people want to take the time to vote they should be able to, and their vote should be counted."

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Of course the other big problem on Tuesday was Maricopa County having only 60 voting precincts for contested primaries for both major parties – down from more than 200 in 2012. As The Arizona Republic noted, that equates to about 21,000 voters for every polling site. Some Maricopa County locations even ran out of ballots.

So, on top of independents not being allowed to vote as independents, Ducey found it "unacceptable that many (voters) had to battle incredibly long lines" essentially to cast ballots that may or may not count anyway.

So much for "every vote counts."

Independents make up the largest share of Arizona registered voters, outnumbering Republicans and Democrats. A recent Morrison Institute study on Arizona independents showed they are not simply Democrats or Republicans in invisible disguise. Independents have a unique voice or voices, as the case may be.

More and more, independents are becoming a deciding force in elections, both nationally and in Arizona – except, of course, when they're not, like in this case when political institutions prohibit or restrict their democratic engagement.

Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.

The director of communications for the Morrison Institute of Public Policy at ASU, Garcia is a longtime, award-winning journalist whose experience as a top editor, columnist and reporter included positions at The Arizona Republic, The Daily Times, Tucson Citizen, USA Today and The Associated Press.

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1 comment on this story

Mar 24, 2016, 10:52 am
-0 +1

I have been a registered Independent for over 15 years now. I changed my party affiliation after the Reform Party fell apart. I made no attempt, nor had any desire, to vote earlier this week. I never had it in my head that voting this week was an option, and I can’t see where any other Independent ever got the idea that they could.

The whole idea behind my Independent status is because I, like George Washington, oppose the two-party system. I don’t want to legitimize it by participating in it, and I don’t want my tax dollars to go to paying for it. I fully support the move to make this Arizona’s last Presidential Preference election (or whatever it’s called). The fact that Independents outnumber Republicans and Democrats tell me that the majorities’ tax dollars are going to fund a minorities’ election. That ain’t right.

This story, and this situation, leaves me with some unanswered questions…

-Where in the world did Independents get the idea that they could participate in this week’s election?

-If an Independent registered as an Independent, then why in the world would he/she want to participate in this week’s election?

-How many “uninformed” (read: moronic) Independent voters clogged up the lines? Would the Maricopa County situation been nearly as bad had Independents read a newspaper once in a while and stayed home?

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Miguel Otarola/Cronkite News

Voters wait in line outside a Phoenix polling stations Tuesday.