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Latino leaders request to be added to ‘Top 2′ challenge

Steve Gallardo (File photo)

Two prominent Latino leaders requested to be added as plaintiffs in a lawsuit aimed at stopping a ballot measure that would make a major change to Arizona’s election process, claiming the change would lead to fewer minority candidates being elected in Arizona.

State Sen. Steve Gallardo and Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, both Phoenix Democrats, and a group called “Save Our Vote,” which also opposes the measure, formally made the request in Maricopa County Superior Court this morning.

The ballot measure in question, called the Open Elections/Open Government Act, would allow Arizona voters to decide this fall whether they want Arizona’s primary process to allow the top two vote getters in any primary election to advance to the general election, regardless of the candidate’s party.

As Arizona’s primary system is now, the top vote getter from each major party advances.

As Gallardo put it, this change would open the door for non-minority candidates to have a greater chance at advancing to the general election, even in districts where ethnic minorities comprise a majority of the population.

That, Gallardo said, is a violation of the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was designed to ensure that minority communities can elect candidates of their choice.

“The Voting Rights Act wasn’t designed with a ‘Top 2′ system in mind,” Gallardo said. “I think this flies in the face of the Voting Rights Act.”

Gallardo said he thinks the authors of the Open Elections/Open Government ballot measure also knew that Latinos would lose their power under such a system, and that’s why the Latino community was not consulted during the effort to get the measure on the ballot.

California recently implemented such a system, and Latino activism groups such as the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, observed that the change led to fewer Latinos advancing through the primary process, Gallardo said.

Because of that, those groups have now expressed their opposition to Arizona’s initiative, and are supporting the challenge Gallardo and Wilcox have asked to join, Gallardo said.

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