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Poll: More than half of Arizonans support a nonpartisan ballot in primaries

More than half of Arizonans support switching from partisan primaries to a nonpartisan ballot that would send the highest-polling candidates on to the general election regardless of party affiliation, according to a poll released Monday by a public policy research group.

Bruce Merrill, poll director and senior research fellow at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, said the results show that Arizonans are ready for a change.

“It’s an attempt really to get away from the overrepresentation of ideologues in the Legislature,” Merrill said in a phone interview.

The poll found that 58 percent of Arizonans favor such a system, while 33 percent oppose it and 9 percent are uncertain.

Under Arizona’s current system, Democrats and Republicans vote in their own party’s primary and independent voters must choose a party’s ballot if they want to participate.

Merrill said that because few Arizonans vote in primaries the most extreme candidates from either side often move forward to the general election.

“What people don’t realize is the majority of all of the electoral outcomes are determined in primary elections,” he said.

The poll of 600 Arizonans was conducted from Oct. 4-11. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed live in Maricopa County, 17 percent in Pima County and 24 percent in other counties. The sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

A group calling itself the Open Government Committee wants Arizonans to decide whether to switch to what often is referred to as an open primary, meaning the top two vote-getters would move forward in a runoff election if neither receive the majority vote.

Paul Johnson, former Phoenix mayor and the group’s chairman, said this poll mirrors feedback he’s heard consistently on changing the system.

“I’m pleased to see Bruce Merrill’s poll confirm what we already know,” he said in a phone interview.

Johnson’s group recently filed an initiative called the Open Elections/Open Government Act. It needs 259,213 signatures by July 5 to make the November 2012 ballot.

Similar systems have been in place in Louisiana since 1975 and in Washington state since 2008, and California voters approved an open primary measure in 2010.

Jennifer Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Democratic Party, said the party doesn’t take an official position on open primaries, adding that whether such a system would work in Arizona “remains to be seen.”

A message left with the Arizona Republican Party wasn’t returned by late Monday afternoon.

Other findings:

• Women were more supportive of a nonpartisan primary than men, with 64 percent saying they would stand behind the system, compared with 49 percent of men.
• Among Republicans, 58 percent supported nonpartisan primaries, 37 percent were opposed and 5 percent weren’t sure.
• Among Democrats, 52 percent favored the idea, 36 percent opposed it and 12 percent weren’t sure.
• Among independent voters, 67 percent favored the idea, 27 percent opposed it and 6 percent weren’t sure.

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