Voters responded with a resounding ‘no’ on Proposition 121, also known as the “top two” primary system, which would have created one primary for all candidates.
But what may have been lost in the debate were the provisions that would have changed voting laws that currently discriminate against independents in a number of ways and severely limit their chances of fairly competing — let alone winning — 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 the total registered number of independents (about one-third of the electorate), while requiring party candidates to only collect 1 percent of their registered number of voters.
• Mandating independent candidates appear at the bottom of the list of all 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 signature requirements are placed on independents because they do not run in a primary election and can collect signatures from any registered voter in their district, unlike party candidates who are restricted to their party and independent voters.
At one time, the higher signature requirement may have made sense when independents made up a smaller portion of the electorate, but during the past 12 years, independents have grown from 18 percent to 34 percent of the registered voters. That meant that in my district (LD18), I had to collect nearly three-to-four times as many signatures as the 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 (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, which, in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision, are further disadvantaged to non-Clean Elections candidates who have the benefit of party and special interest spending? While I sent one mailer to only independents, costing half of my overall $25,000 Clean Election funding, I received at least 20 mail advertisements from my Republican opponents, about half of them in the last two weeks of the campaign.
Finally, other than giving an advantage to the parties, there seems to be no logic requiring independents to pay for their district’s voter registration list. It cost my campaign about $1,300 (at 1-cent per voter) to purchase the LD18 voter registration list from the county recorder, while the parties receive it for free and then disburse it to their candidates. Since all voters/taxpayers pay for the county election system (similar to public schools and libraries) there is no reason for this requirement, other than to put an additional financial burden on independents.
In addition, putting independents at the bottom of the candidate list, while party candidates are rotated at the top is nothing more than saying independents are second-class citizens. That seems particularly ironic since I collected more nomination signatures than any other legislative candidate (1,768), let alone more than anyone in my district. One-third of my signatures came from Republicans and Democrats.
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 give an unfair advantage for party candidates and discriminate against independents, a growing force in Arizona politics and likely to become the largest voting bloc within the next election cycle.
Second, the Legislature should look to strengthen the Clean Elections system, not weaken it (as several legislators attempted to during the 2012 session), as the growing influence of special interests and big money was evident this past campaign ($1 million was spent by Republicans and Democrats in LD18).
Third, equalize funding for independent and party Clean Elections candidates, as well increase overall Clean Elections funding levels, so that more civic-minded citizens not aligned with a party have a chance to compete in an increasingly polarized election system that is being overly influenced by special interests.
— Brent Fine, ran as independent, LD18.