Commentary: Democracy is broken when it’s built to limit competition. But there’s a way to fix it.

Arizona Mirror
May 24, 2024

Commentary: Democracy is broken when it’s built to limit competition. But there’s a way to fix it.

By Dr. Matthew C. Whitaker

Democracy isn’t working for most Arizona voters — Republicans, Democrats and Independents. Most of our state’s 30 legislative districts are considered “safe,” meaning one party’s candidate always wins in the general election.

What that means is that democracy’s wheels are really only spinning in primary elections  — but only about 20% of voters participate in Republican primaries and only about 15% participate in Democratic primaries. The rest of us just think we are picking winners for the state Senate and House of Representative in November.

In addition, if you — like me — are one of the 34% of Arizona voters not registered with either party, you hardly have any voice at all, and certainly no independent candidate to vote for.

Sure, independent voters can decide to vote in one of the partisan primaries, and 10% of unaffiliated voters choose to do this — but they still can only vote for a partisan candidate. The political parties have even made it extremely difficult for an independent candidate to get on the general election ballot by requiring them to collect many times more signatures to qualify.

The current elections system is not a real democracy for all voters.

So, what can we do?

First, let’s get rid of partisan primaries and replace them with open primaries in which all candidates — Republican, Democrat and Independent — are on the same ballot. Doing so would mean voters can vote for the candidate of their choice, regardless of the voter or candidate’s party affiliation.

At least the top two vote-getters for each legislative office would go on to the general election. The legislature or Secretary of State could decide to allow the top three or more candidates move on to the general election.

Most Arizonans split their general election ballots anyway, and we should allow them to vote in the primary the same way. Instead of the traditional Republican and Democrat on the general election ballot, the result of an open primary might be two Republicans competing in the general election. Or it could be two Democrats or two independent candidates, or some other variation.

The second thing we must do is be fair to independent candidates. We should make their signature requirements to be on the ballot the same as the partisan candidates.

Do you like this open primary idea of allowing all voters to have a real choice in deciding which candidates make it to the general election?  Or do you like our partisan primaries that do not give all voters a real choice of which candidates get on to the general election ballot?

This November, you might be able to vote on which system you want.

If you want to keep our current partisan primaries, state legislators have already put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to mandate that there be no changes to our partisan primary election process.

If you like the idea of open primaries, “Make Elections Fair Arizona” has a petition to place a constitutional amendment on the November 5th ballot to make that happen. But enough signatures of registered voters must be obtained for this amendment to be on the general election ballot.

Which primary process will make democracy reign in our state — partisan or open primaries?

Hopefully, you will be able to make this choice in November.

Dr. Matthew C. Whitaker is the Founder and CEO of the Diamond Strategies, LLC., a full-service diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, belonging (DEIAB), conflict resolution, and community relations firm. He is also the executive director of the historic George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center in Phoenix. Dr. Whitaker is also a leader of the non-partisan Business for Democracy-AZ, a campaign of the American Sustainable Business Network. He can be followed on Threads at @drmcw and Instagram @drmcw.

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