Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Wanted: Independent voters to moderate Arizona politics

Tuesday is the last day to vote in the primary election.

What’s an independent voter to do?

Independents are the second-most populous “party” in the state, with a little more than 1 million registrations (about 33 percent of the total).

Yet independents will cast the fewest ballots in the primary because primaries are political party parties, no Indies invited.

Well, they’re invited, they’re just not wanted. It’s like having a family reunion and your wife’s irritating cousin once-removed shows up with his unruly kids (who try to run off with the cake).

Arizona has an “open” primary system in which independents are allowed to vote. Except there’s nothing independent about it, they have to choose a party’s ballot, Democrat or Republican (but not Libertarian, they sued and won to have a closed primary). No choosing one candidate from column A and another from column B, which is what independents want to do.

Most independents are independents because they can’t stand what the Democrats and Republicans have become. It’s a refuge for left-leaning Republicans and right-leaning Democrats. Moreover, they’re interested in politics, but they’re not consumed by it, so they tend to only pay attention to elections when it’s time to vote.

Over the past 20 years in Arizona voter registration has increased by 72 percent with almost all of that growth independent registration. Since 1992, Democratic registration has increased 22 percent and Republican registration 35 percent, but independent registration jumped a staggering 406 percent. While 46 percent of voters identified themselves as Republicans and 42 percent as Democrats in 1992, those numbers have fallen to 35 percent and 30 percent, respectively, today.

The result of all those moderates choosing to be political orphans has been the radicalization of both parties, especially the Republicans, which over the past few years has moved so far to the right it’s become the John Birch Society come in from the cold. It wasn’t that long ago that the JBS was considered the haven of paranoids and lunatics. Now the paranoids seem to be in control of the Grand Ol’ Party, what with all the bills proposed that past few legislative sessions seeking to defend Arizona from the ravages of the United Nations, the federal government and illegal immigrants.

Independents tend to vote in national general elections at about the same rate as Republicans and Democrats, but they stay home at a greater rate than party voters in state and local elections.

As a result, their moderate views are not reflected in the voting results. By the time they vote in national elections, it’s too late, the primaries have selected the most liberal or the most conservative candidates, leaving independents with a lesser-of-evils vote. And not voting in state and local elections speaks for itself.

There is an attempt this year to change the state’s primary system that would allow all voters to chose one from column A and one from column B (or columns C, D and E, even) in the primary with the top two candidates advancing to the general election, but the parties are doing everything they can to kill it. For the ideologues who run the parties, and the current office holders who have benefitted from the absence of independents, moderation is odious.

If the “top two” primary system doesn’t make this year’s ballot for technical reasons, supporters must try again.

Barry Goldwater was wrong, extremism is a vice.

And Arizona will remain extreme if we don’t find a way to bring a third of its voters back into the process of selecting the candidates for office.

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