Opinion by Brent Fine
Voters soundly rejected Proposition 121, the top-two primary system that would have created one primary for all candidates.
But what may have been lost in the debate over the proposition were provisions that would have changed voting laws that discriminate against independents and severely limit their chances of being competitive in, let alone win, a county, legislative or statewide race.
Most voters I met while collecting signatures to run for state representative were unaware of numerous major obstacles put in the path of independents, including:
- Requiring independents to collect signatures from 3 percent of registered independents, while only requiring party candidates to collect 1 percent of their registered voters.
- Mandating independent candidates appear below all other candidates, while party candidates are rotated on the ballot so they equally appear at the top of the candidate list.
- Making independents pay for their district voter-registration list, while parties receive the voter list for free and then pass it on to their candidates.
- Giving Clean Elections independent candidates 30 percent less funding than partisan Clean Elections candidates.
Officials say higher signature requirements are placed on independent candidates because they do not run in a primary election and can collect signatures from any registered voter in the district, unlike party candidates who are restricted to their party and independent voters.
Lack of a primary is also the reason cited for receiving substantially less Clean Elections funding.
A higher signature requirement may have made sense when independents made up a smaller portion of the electorate, but in the last 12 years, independents have increased from 18 percent to 34 percent of registered voters.
That meant in my legislative district, I needed three to four times as many signatures as major party candidates (1,351 vs. 389 for Democrats and 509 for Republicans) and more than any candidate running for the Legislature in 2012.
As for Clean Elections funding, why should independents be docked 30 percent funding (about $10,000) for a lack of a primary, when party candidates running unopposed in their primaries still receive 40 percent of their overall Clean Elections funding for the primary, allowing them to promote their names and ideas for months ahead of a general election campaign?
Why not equalize funding for independents, who in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision are further disadvantaged when compared with non-Clean Elections candidates by massive amounts of funding through party and special interests?
Finally, other than giving an advantage to the parties, there seems to be no logical reason for requiring independents to pay for their district's voter registration list ($1,300, in my case) or listing independents at the bottom of the candidate list other than to make them "second-class" candidates.
Because all voters/taxpayers pay for the county election system, there is no reason for this requirement.
As elected officials and the Legislature consider election reform in light of the 650,000 early and provisional votes that required an extra two weeks to count, it's time to reform election laws designed squarely to discriminate against independents, a growing force in Arizona politics.
Also, the Legislature should look to strengthen the Clean Elections system, not weaken it as several legislators attempted in the 2012 session, by increasing funding limits so Clean Elections candidates can compete against the big-money and special interests.
Brent Fine ran for state representative in Legislative District 18, which includes Ahwatukee Foothills and parts of Chandler, Tempe and Mesa.
The original article can be viewed here.