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‘Top-2’ primary is like candy — offers quick satisfaction but ultimately rots teeth

Thank you for the informative article “Other states with top-2 primaries show mixed results” from the Sept. 21 issue of the Arizona Capitol Times. The piece presented a number of pros and cons of the top-two system based on both actual results and expectations from other states.

While it was fairly comprehensive and included some of the League of Women Voters of Arizona’s concerns about more money and actually greater party power in primaries, it did not include the principal reasons that the League is opposing the measure — Proposition 121 — on our November ballot.

We have a sincere appreciation for the dissatisfaction supporters have with the fact that the views of a majority of Arizonans are not well- represented. We understand that they are looking for “moderation” in their legislators. However, civility and compromise are more productive goals than trying to eliminate all other views that are not somehow defined as “moderate.”

We believe that writing election laws for the purpose of a particular outcome does not make for good public policy, especially when there are better alternatives that do not disenfranchise any voters and actually open up the election system to candidates and voters.

Contrary to what is often presented, Prop. 121 is not a small step toward a better system, but one with negative consequences, particularly for independents and third-party voters and candidates.

Worse yet, it risks all this and offers much less voter choice for the general election.

We wish that supporters of Prop. 121, when initially considering changes to election laws, had done a more thorough study of the options and not chosen to go with the “hot” new “reform” for election laws.

The League believes there are several different ideas that would meet the goals of the supporters without reducing voter choice in the general election. Some of these include:

1. Easing independent candidate ballot access in Arizona and repealing the sore loser law.

2. Instant runoff voting for single-seat elections or American-style proportional representation with multi-seats. Both can be done with a ranked choice voting system either in primaries or to replace them, but still eliminate the spoiler effect while electing the candidate with the most overall support.

3. Even a top-two election based on the Louisiana model would be a small improvement. All candidates run in a general November election and if no candidate receives 50 percent, a runoff is held in December.

The top-two system on the November Arizona ballot is like candy; it offers quick satisfaction but ultimately rots your teeth. Top-two may do serious long-term harm to representative democracy in Arizona. So why would we risk it when there are actually better solutions?

With a ranked ballot, voters have far more choice, candidates who appeal to the broadest majority do better, negative campaigning is not rewarded and it does not shut out the voices of new challengers and third parties. Serious reforms are like good vegetables, compared to the candy of top-two.

The League has been working to educate residents about this option and to get ranked choice onto the ballot and will continue to do so. If top-two wins, however, those healthier changes may be pushed back many years.

— Barbara Klein, president, League of Women Voters of Arizona.

— Bonnie Saunders, immediate past president, LWV Arizona.

— Ann Eschinger, former president, LWV Arizona.


  1. We appreciate the League of Women Voters passion for wanting to see reform to the current election system that is inadequate for representing ALL of Arizona’s voters.

    Prop 121 offers a reform that is similar to the proven system used in 90 out of 91 cities and towns in Arizona today (and for the past half century). You’ll notice that there is not a huge cry for reform from citizens represented by our municipalities and even the League is not pushing to change the system used by cities and towns. This is the same system that elected an Independent candidate into office in Arizona’s largest city just last year. Why haven’t cities experienced the type of “serious long-term harm” the League promises will occur?

    We also fail to understand why smaller 3rd parties that represent less than 1% of all Arizona voters are considered sacred even though Independents, which more than 33% of Arizonans list as their preference, are left out. There has not been a Libertarian, Green Party, or Americans Elect candidate ever elected to a state-office in Arizona, despite the fact that they are given General Election ballot status each cycle in the current system.

    The League recognizes that change needs to occur. Thus far they have not offered any tangible action for their reforms (with the exception of joining a lawsuit to keep this away from voters). They continue to offer lofty ideas, complex political science theories, and references to bad dental hygiene.

    Please vote YES on PROP 121.

  2. It is amazing how many conundrums Ranked Choice Voting resolves. Dissolves. It is a way to avoid the mathematical problems when third candidates run, and nobody gets a majority. It helps communicate how many minority voters. Public policy benefits from more information about popular support and opposition.

  3. The primary elections have a much smaller voter turnout than the general elections. It seems that there should be more choices than just two on the general ballot where more people will be voting. Ranked Choice Voting on the general ballot would save time. It would save money for both the elections dept. and for those running for office. One election instead of two. The voters would rank each candidate in the order of preference, 1, 2, 3… After the first count of the ballots if no one receives 50 plus one percent of the vote the run off happens immediately. No second election. The candidate with the lowest number of votes is not in the run off round of vote counting. Those who voted for that first looser as their first choice now have their second choice vote counted toward the candidate that the voter ranked as #2. Vote “NO” on 121 and hope that Ranked Choice Voting is implemented in our state.

  4. A YES vot for Prop 121 is a yes vote to the honoring and respecting equal rights
    to all citizens of Arizona.

    Prop121 will allow:

    1. Equal access of all voters to be a candidate on our ballots.

    2. Equal access of all voter to cast their votes at all elections.

    3. Voters and citizens to contiue having PACs, political parties,
    focucus groups,…etc.

  5. Donna Gratehouse

    Tom Milton, contrary to the belief that seems to be prevalent among Top Two supporters, independent voters are not a monolithic bloc of socially liberal and fiscally conservative voters whose interests happen to line up perfectly with the Chamber of Commerce. Research on voting patterns has repeatedly shown that independents are actually just as partisan as registered Ds and Rs in their voting. The centrist business establishment people in this state grossly overestimate themselves and the popularity of their economic agenda for Arizona.

    If you really want moderates there are plenty of them to vote for in Arizona. They’re called the Democrats. Of course, if Dems ever took over one or both chambers of the Legislature the rich plutocrats would face the horrifying prospect of not getting what they want 100% of the time, as they do now. What the wealthy backers of Prop 121 seem to want is less embarrassing right wingers, not actual moderates.

  6. This poorly conceived proposal is a monument to the Law of Unintended Consequences.

    Currently Precinct Committeepersons are elected during Primary elections as representatives of their Precincts to the Political Parties. There is NO prevision made nor is their any obvious prevision TO be made.

    If a sitting member of the self-selected “Tea Party but Really More-Or-Less Centrist but Still Pro-Choice” Party resigns, from what group is a replacement selected? Their one-member Party? Some other? By whom? What “Party” are they?

    When the Jungle Election comes, how are Observers chosen? Not from “Parties” certainly. Will there be a drawing of who can be there and what candidate will lose out? The counting rooms are finite and there are fire codes. Will we stumbling over the flock of untrained observers?

    There are countless more that are too complex to list like hand counts. Will the entire Legislative Session be spent patching the laws into a workable hash? This is an absurd sleight of hand by people not close enough to elections.

  7. Prop. 121 is a disaster waiting to happen.
    It will abolish all equality in candidates.
    It will get rid of minority candidates.
    Prop 121 could be compared to Clean Electionsl–
    a total failure and will undermine the voting process

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