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Court hearings set for lawsuits on ‘Top-2′ primary measure

Back-to-back court hearings are scheduled Thursday on dueling lawsuits over whether Arizona voters will decide the fate of an initiative proposal to dramatically change how the state conducts primary elections.

Under the initiative, Arizona voters could vote for any primary election candidate regardless of party affiliation. Also, the primary’s top two finishers would advance to the general election regardless of partisan affiliation.

A lawsuit filed by the proposal’s supporters seeks to overturn election officials’ findings that initiative petitions lacked enough valid voter signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

A countersuit filed by opponents says thousands of petition pages and the signatures they contain are invalid. That suit alleges some circulators either were ineligible because of criminal convictions or didn’t make required out-of-state residency disclosures.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge will hear the lawsuits. Both were filed late Friday.

California, Louisiana and Washington use systems similar to the one proposed by the initiative.

Currently, Arizona voters can vote only in the primary of their own party or, if they’re independents, a party of their choosing. And each party’s nominees automatically advance to the general election.

Supporters of the proposal say its changes would give voters a louder voice in the political process and reduce the impact of parties’ ideological extremes. Opponents contend that the changes would weaken political parties and deprive voters of meaningful choices.

The supporters’ suits contend that elections officials were wrong when they disqualified many petition signatures. Most were rejected on grounds that the signers aren’t registered voters.

The opponents’ countersuit said any errors that elections officials made in rejecting signers’ signatures are offset because thousands of entire petition pages should have been thrown out.

The countersuit alleged that some petition circulators were ineligible due to felony convictions or that they hadn’t accurately disclosed where they live.

Joe Yuhas, a spokesman for supporters, said the allegedly ineligible circulators have the same names as people with criminal records but are different individuals. He said supporters will respond to the suit’s other allegations in court.

The opponents previously tried to keep the proposal off the ballot on grounds that its many provisions violated a constitutional prohibition against including more than one constitutional provision in one ballot measure.

A trial judge ruled there was a violation, but the Arizona Supreme Court ruled otherwise and reversed the judge’s order, keeping the measure off the ballot.

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