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Arizona group aiming to institute open primaries submits signatures to get on the ballot

Former Arizona Attorney General and Phoenix Mayor Terry Goddard speaks surrounded by boxes of sheets with signatures that Make Elections Fair Arizona need to get their measure to qualify for the ballot at the state Capitol on Wednesday, July 3, 2024.
Camryn Sanchez/KJZZ
Former Arizona Attorney General and Phoenix Mayor Terry Goddard speaks surrounded by boxes of sheets with signatures that Make Elections Fair Arizona need to get their measure to qualify for the ballot at the state Capitol on Wednesday, July 3, 2024.

Proponents of a citizen initiative that would institute open primaries in Arizona say they’ve submitted more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

If approved by voters in November, the Make Elections Fair act would eliminate Arizona’s traditional, partisan primary system — largely dominated by partisan votes for Republican and Democratic nominees for major statewide and legislative offices. Even independent voters must request a partisan ballot to participate in those primary elections.

Instead, all candidates would appear on one ballot, and every registered voter would get to choose their preferred candidate from the full list.

Former Arizona Attorney General and Phoenix Mayor Terry Goddard is an advocate for the measure. He says it’s needed because Arizona’s current primary system rewards extremists.

“They have given us a system of partisan gridlock. Where any compromise is considered treasonous by the side that you happen to be on,” Goddard said.

Goddard and the group’s treasurer, Chuck Coughlin, pointed to low turnout in the current primary elections, which allows candidates to secure their party’s nomination despite having earned only a small fraction of the support of constituents in their districts or across the state.

“Anything is better than the current system where 80% of people run unopposed. It’s lunacy if we allow that to continue and we believe that’s the shared value with Arizona voters,” the group’s treasurer Chuck Coughlin said.

Make Elections Fair Arizona Treasurer Chuck Coughlin speaks at the Arizona Capitol surrounded by boxes of sheets with signatures that they need to get their measure to qualify for the ballot on Wednesday, July 3, 2024.
Camryn Sanchez/KJZZ
Make Elections Fair Arizona Treasurer Chuck Coughlin speaks at the Arizona Capitol surrounded by boxes of sheets with signatures that they need to get their measure to qualify for the ballot on Wednesday, July 3, 2024.

The group says they’ve gathered 584,124 signatures, far above the 383,923 threshold they needed to meet to get the measure on the ballot.

But they anticipate lawsuits challenging the validity of those signatures in the coming weeks.

Republican state lawmakers also put up a competing ballot measure, also set to appear on ballots in November, which would ban open primaries. Republicans argued that allowing open primaries and ranked choice voting is confusing to voters.

If the Republican anti-open primary measure passes in November, and the Make Elections Fair AZ measure passes too, the ballot measure that gets the most votes becomes law.

Make Elections Fair Arizona representatives surrounded by boxes of sheets with signatures that they need to get their measure to qualify for the ballot at the state Capitol on Wednesday, July 3, 2024.
Camryn Sanchez/KJZZ
Make Elections Fair Arizona representatives surrounded by boxes of sheets with signatures that they need to get their measure to qualify for the ballot at the state Capitol on Wednesday, July 3, 2024.

A second group called Better Ballot Arizona also supports open primaries, though they want to require Ranked Choice Voting which Make Elections Fair AZ does not mandate.

Better Ballot AZ has decided to “stand down,” according to Coughlin, and many of that group’s members indicated support for Make Elections Fair AZ’s effort.

Republican Beau Lane speaks at the Arizona Capitol surrounded by boxes of sheets with signatures that Make Elections Fair Arizona need to get their measure to qualify for the ballot on Wednesday, July 3, 2024.
Camryn Sanchez/KJZZ
Republican Beau Lane speaks at the Arizona Capitol surrounded by boxes of sheets with signatures that Make Elections Fair Arizona need to get their measure to qualify for the ballot on Wednesday, July 3, 2024.

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Camryn Sanchez is a field correspondent at KJZZ covering everything to do with state politics.