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Everyone should have a vote in the presidential preference election


In 2020, qualified independent voters who want to vote in the presidential preference election will be required to join a private organization, a “recognized party,” by February 19 to participate in the March 17 election. One-third of Arizona’s registered voters are independents. To be forced to join a party to vote for the president of all Americans violates the very idea of America. It is civic usury.

It must change – and can. That power rests with the parties themselves. They are private organizations that seek to influence government in specific ways, but they are not an arm of government. They do not own the Constitution; we – all of us – do.

Al Bell

Al Bell

Many Founding Fathers and historians considered America an experiment, based on the idea that people could govern themselves without a dominating force controlling them. It is the “Great American Experiment,” a radical and unprecedented form of self-governance. It will always be severely tested. Believing that only members of political parties should choose our leaders is an affront to all of us.

A pillar of our experiment is our right to vote, about which the Founders provided surprisingly little guidance. Voting arrangements were left to the states, though Congress retained the right to change them. Over time, political parties came to define how elections are conducted. The result is an Alice-in-Wonderland labyrinth of rules established by the parties that control participation in our elections. That has to end.

The history of voter control is convoluted and ugly. Voting rights have been opened up by constitutional amendment, then violated by local and state statutes. Parties blatantly seek to choose voters by tactics such as fostering gerrymandering, enacting arbitrary voting restrictions, operating campaign financing schemes, fomenting political action committees, and in general, playing games with our most basic right of citizenship. “Winning” through such devious means dishonors the principles that define America. It cynically treats our experiment as ill-founded and non-party voters as second-class citizens. It is the ultimate civic hypocrisy.

Partly because of these offenses, millions of independent voters in America have opted out of the parties. Many political pundits and party leaders discount them as spoilers who are just disgruntled party “leaners.” It is much more complicated than that.

Some independents are clearly anti-party. Many do identify generally with party policy positions. They also readily cross the partisan divide when they believe it is warranted.

Most independent voters want to tamp down game-playing and ramp up problem-solving. They refuse to vote in strict compliance with party dogma. In that, they do not render themselves less of an American. Quite the contrary, in fact.

The parties should bring us their best candidates. Our job – all of us – is to decide if we agree, then vote accordingly. No entity has the right to stop us.

How, then, do we proceed?

The Democratic and Republican parties in Arizona could open the presidential preference election to the 1.26 million independent Arizonans with a flourish of the pen. That is what the Democratic Party did in Nebraska, California, Oklahoma and South Dakota. The Democratic Party in Florida initiated a similar measure now working through counties toward their fall convention (with 80 percent support in Miami-Dade County alone!).

Parties’ right to do so is clearly established by the U.S. Supreme Court, despite Arizona’s law to the contrary. It alleges to supersede party rules, a position the Supreme Court rejected 33 years ago!

Why does this matter?

I recently had an awakening by talking with dozens of students at a couple of local colleges. Well over half consider themselves independents. Here comes the future!

The stakes are immense. Officeholders spend untold hours of time, taxpayers invest many millions of dollars a year, festering problems that go begging for solutions, and many citizens despair of how our “Great American Experiment” is doing.

Can independent voters help rewrite that script? Yes. Our experiment needs all the friends it can get. Tell your party leaders – Democrat Felecia Rotellini and Republican Kelli Ward –that you expect better from them by opening up the presidential preference election now!

Just let voters vote. All of us.

Alfred Bell is a Peoria resident and is a leader in the independent voter movement in Arizona.


  1. I would prefer we get the parties out of the election business. Have a primary, top two candidates go on to the general election.

    Now in Texas, you don’t have to join the party, you just go vote in either, but not both. They stamp your voter ID card showing which one you voted in. You can only vote in run-offs for that one.

  2. Why do we need a “Presidential Preference” vote in the first place. It cost too much money to have one and yields no real results. We have a Primary Vote. Yes, we do for the “Parties” so that a Preferred Candidate can be chosen from their respective parties. As I understand it the Parties pay for this vote to happen. It doesn’t include Independents because they didn’t pay for it.

    Then we have the General Election paid for by the Taxpayers. Every Taxpayer whether he or she may be Independent or not can vote then. What is wrong with that system?? Seems simple to me without all the Hullabaloo of a “Pre-Primary” election.

  3. Dennis Flaherty

    The Legislature appropriates public money to fund Republican and Democratic presidential preference elections. All taxpayers pay, but only Republicans and Democrats can play. Independents cannot participate as such. No one has yet charged either party with voter suppression. But if Independents, Arizona’s second largest bloc of voters, are barred from voting, what would you call it?

  4. Thank you for commenting, Joe.

    I believe parties will be a factor for the foreseeable future. They present two challenges. One is enabling them once again to govern by means of legitimate compromise. That requires rescuing them from their own extremes. The second is to quit silencing voters who do not agree totally on party ideology.

    I agree with you on the top two idea. It is acquiring a track record in a few states. Parties should bring us their best candidates and invite all voters to vote in all elections without artificial or arbitrary restraint.
    The Texas system is similar to Arizona’s by restricting Independent Voters to a single party ballot. Arizona also has a special kind of primary election called the Presidential Preference Election (PPE). It’s rules—despite being unconstitutional—require Independent Voters to reregister with a party in order to vote. Parties are empowered to change that, but have not in Arizona.

    The real question is, How do we respect rights for all voters? People who care must become active. If you wish to do so, contact me at [email protected]. and I will identify some possibilities for you to consider.

  5. I find a lot to agree with in your thinking, Doug. Although there is one misconception that Mr. Flaherty sets right. Parties do not pay the costs of primaries and PPEs; the State does. Read: all Arizona taxpayers. Parties spend a lot of money on campaigning and promoting their own candidates, but that just gets their candidates on the ballot. I view this arrangement as a blatant form of taxation without representation.

    We still have to deal with party dogma that despises compromise and views opponents as mortal enemies. America is truly divided against itself.

    Your notion, not now in effect, for parties to pay all costs associated with primaries and retain financing of the general election by all taxpayers is another option. I do not know if that has received serious consideration anywhere.

    We are currently subsidizing a system that is failing in its basic mission: to actually govern on behalf of all Americans.

    If you want to help unravel this mess, contact me at [email protected] and I can provide you with some possibilities to consider.

    I doubt we will get any more comments on this thread; other important topics have been raised in the recent days. But don’t forget that it is the people who really care who make the difference. I hope you are one of them.

  6. Al Bell is spot on in his take on Democracy FOR All, and how this is subverted in Arizona.
    We saw a different, if not similar scenario when Michelle Reagan, former Secretary of State-perhaps, the worst in Arizona history, attempted to curtail voting rights for those who may not be all in as an Arizona Republican.

  7. George Washington said that political parties were “self-created societies” that should not be supported by the people and that political parties would destroy the freedom of the people. 225 years later we can see that George Washington was right. What we have to do as independent voters is tell Democrats and Republicans that they are not the government of the United States. They are self-created societies’ that seek to limit and exclude the people from participation in their government. That means removal of the obstructions to freedom that they have erected over the past 219 years.

  8. In the Presidential Preference Election, voters who are registered as Democrats or Republicans will vote for the presidential candidate they would prefer to be their party’s nominee for the presidency. They vote for delegates who will then vote for the preferred candidate at the party’s national convention, where the presidential nominee is formally selected.

    PPE’s are for determining how their party’s AZ delegates are allocated for their national conventions. This is nothing personal against independent voters and this is the only AZ election they can’t vote in. These elections involve voting for party delegates and determining how AZ delegates are allocated between the parties, the reason a “non-partisan” Independent voter can’t vote in them is because they’re all about party. This shouldn’t be a problem. Independents usually lean one way or the other, if they really want to vote in the PPE it’s not hard to register with the recognized party best aligned with their values and vote in the PPE. They can go back to Independent status after they vote.

    I will say this. It makes no sense for the state to run these elections. They’re very expensive to the taxpayers and anyone who can’t vote in them, shouldn’t have to pay for them. In fact, these elections are all about parties doing party business. They should be run by the parties themselves.


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