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Goddard: Independent voter suppression — the rest of the story

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Goddard: Independent voter suppression — the rest of the story

Independent voters in Arizona are our state's largest voting block at 35 percent of registered voters; 1.1 million good people. In theory, they hold an enormous amount of power to determine how Arizona elections turn out. But they don't vote – at least not in the numbers or in the elections that could change who is getting elected. Independents, engaged effectively, would have a major impact on Arizona, moderating the extremes at both ends of the political spectrum.

Many believe that voters register as Independent rather than choosing a partisan affiliation because they are either uninformed or don't care. But, after seeking out Independent voters during my campaign, I've found that theory to be far from true.

I have found that many people are registering as Independents to make an affirmative statement that they are sick of the political attack culture with its dark money and want play a part in changing our politics for the better.

So, if the Independents want to change everything, why don't they vote?

The answer is: Because Arizona encourages partisan voters to turn out, while our state treats Independent voters like second-class citizens. Our election system should empower every voter equally, but the treatment of Independents has been shoddy at best, malicious at worst and just wrong. Every registered Arizona voter whether Democrat, Republican, Independent or other, is standing up to say they want their voice to be heard. As secretary of state, I will make voting easier and more accessible for all registered voters, regardless of their party affiliation.

While we are rightfully worried about the suppression of Latino and Native American voters here in Arizona, we have ignored the ample evidence of a clear strategy to keep Independents from voting or holding office. In the 2012 primary election Independents voted at an astonishingly low 7.38 percent. Almost not at all. If an ethnic group voted in that low a percentage, there would be an immediate Justice Department inquiry. Yet that has been the lot of Independent voters for years.

There has never been an Independent elected to any statewide or legislative office in Arizona history. Not one. There have been a few mayors and council persons who were registered Independents, but city elections are mostly nonpartisan and use the top-two primary system with a run off. Partisan labels are not allowed and often the party registration of a candidate is known only to a few.

For statewide offices, Independent candidates face much tougher state-imposed standards to qualify than partisan ones. To get on the ballot, Democratic candidates need to collect 6,500 nominating petitions while Republicans need 7,000.

Independent candidates have to turn in roughly five times as many: 33,000. I will support legislation to make the independent signature requirement commensurate with the total number of Independents, in line with the other major voter groups.

When partisan candidates qualify for the ballot, they are provided with a free list of voters in their district. Independent candidates have to pay for voter lists. This is wrong and I will change it.

Independents have had the right to vote in either the Republican or the Democratic primary elections since 1998. But, apparently most Independents do not understand that right. At least, that would be a logical conclusion from a turnout of less than 8 percent. Independents signed up for the Permanent Early Voting List do not automatically get a ballot in the mail like their Republican and Democratic friends. Independents receive one postcard, just one, each election year alerting them they can request a party primary ballot. The text of the card is confusing and the card doesn't look any different than the junk mail we all get on a daily basis. Many voters just throw it out. As secretary of state, I will give much better notice to Independents and send reminders if the card is not turned in. I will change the system to provide an automatic ballot of the same party as the voter requested in the prior election, unless the voter specifically notifies the country recorder to send a different ballot.

The postcard instructs Independents to return it by July 12 in order to receive a ballot for the Aug. 26 primary. The clear implication is that July 12 is the final deadline for getting a vote by mail ballot, even though all voters are eligible to request a mail ballot by notifying the county recorder's office up to Aug. 15. For some reason, the postcard fails to mention the later deadline. I will clarify the deadlines.

But if you still doubt that there is a push to suppress Independent voters, just look at House Bill 2305, sponsored by state Sen. Michelle Reagan and signed by the governor last year. That legislation was particularly harmful to the rights of Independents and members of third parties. For example, the number of petition signatures required for Libertarians to get on the ballot was raised 4,000 percent. The PEVL vote by mail lists were to be "scrubbed" of anyone who "DID NOT VOTE AN EARLY BALLOT IN BOTH THE PRIMARY ELECTION AND THE GENERAL ELECTION FOR THE TWO MOST RECENT GENERAL ELECTIONS". This quoted language meant that since over 90 percent of Independents missed the 2012 primary, had HB2305 remained in effect, these voters, unless they notified the county recorder in writing that they wished to remain on the vote by mail list, would have been purged from that list two years later, even if they voted in every subsequent election! In other words, miss voting once in a primary, but vote in the next 3 primary and general elections, still off you go. Not fair for anyone, but especially unfair to Independents.

Fortunately, 145,000 of our fellow citizens were so outraged by HB 2305 that they promptly signed petitions to put it on the next ballot. Rather than face the voters, Sen. Reagan quickly got her measure repealed. But, that repeal was done without a murmur of repentance and the spirit of voter suppression is very much alive.

As things stand for Independents in Arizona today, Independent parents should tell their children, "There is no way you can grow up to be governor!"

Reckless, extremist politics are damaging our state – that's no secret. But we don't have to wait a generation to change the quality of candidates we elect in Arizona. We already have a solution to the extremism, and all it would take is opening up the voting process to people who are already registered to vote and have already rejected the ugly politics that are damaging our great state - Independents. I am committed to making the simple changes to our system, so Arizona will hear all of its voters in the future.

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