Prop. 121 May Nudge the Nation
Deep discontent is driving the YES vote for Proposition 121, the Top-two Primary. Its two-step process, long used by Arizona voters in local non-partisan elections, lets all voters, regardless of party, vote in a single primary election. Voters narrow the list to the top two, who competes in the general election. Voters, not political parties, control access to the general election ballot.
A survey of 1,065 Arizona voters by 8Sages.com found that if the election were held today, Proposition 121 would win by 14 points. Independents, independent-minded Democrats and Republicans are giving the initiative a resounding lead (by 24, 29, and 15 points, respectively). Even strong Republicans favor it by 3 points, and it trails by one point among committed Democrats.
Why such broad-based support?
The survey shows the dominant theme this election is unhappy voters. They are displeased with the president’s performance and may even vote him out of office. But before Republicans dust off their dancingshoes, they should consider that a majority also would vote Governor Jan Brewer out of office if she were on the ballot.
Hard data on discontent is evident in voter self-identification. Without any reregistration campaign, voters are quietly abandoning all political parties. Democrats have been losing registration since the 1940s, Republicans since the mid-1980s.
Proposition 121 sends a constructive, positive message. It strengthens the consent of the governed. It increases the pool of voices that hold politicians accountable. Americans are good at this. Since our founding, we have expanded the franchise – from landed white men, to landless white men, black men, women, Native Americans, and then young people who were eligible to serve, but not vote for their country.
Proposition 121 might be the tipping point to change the national picture. Its critics know it. Undisclosed California sources have pumped almost half a million dollars into Arizona to oppose Proposition 121. The money was funneled into the Americans for Responsible Leadership, chaired by Robert Graham a candidate for the Republican State Party Chair. Once more Arizona is on the cusp of nudging the nation.
Open primary elections is changing the marketplace, increasing competition between candidates, even if they are in the same party. Washington State and California have embraced Proposition 121-like voting systems. Ballotpedia.com ranks California’s 2012 legislative elections the most competitive in the country.
This year, for the first time in US history, 66 US Senators and Representatives - 12% of the Congress – must answer to all the people who elected them in California andWashington State.
Add Arizona’s 2 Senators and 9 Representatives to California and Washington State in 2014, then 77 members of Congress will be voter, not party, nominated. When my friend and legislative colleague Bill Konopnicki and I wrote the first draft of this initiative, we called it the “Sweet Seventy-seven.” We imagined our Western Congressmen who must appeal to all the voters in their states to get on the general ballot and be elected. They might less focused on partisan loyalty and more on our shared regional interests. Proposition 121 offers a better way to express the consent of the governed.
Ted Downing, former two-term state legislator who leads the Arizona Independent Voting Project