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Arizona group wants to abolish party primaries

The Associated Press

An Arizona group is launching a ballot measure to abolish party primaries in the state, saying that the current system favors partisan extremists.

The Arizona Republic reports (http://bit.ly/mXVPoL ) that the Arizona Open Government Coalition wants to replace the party primaries with a single-primary system open to all voters. The two candidates with the most votes would advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

Coalition members said the system would encourage more independent voters to participate in primaries and attract more moderate candidates who would appeal to a broader group of voters.

"The long-term impact is more people will speak," said Joe Yuhas, a political consultant who is helping to organize the ballot push. "That's what it's all about. We want to open up the process."

The coalition is run by former politicians and business leaders from Democratic, Republican and independent ranks. They plan to start collecting signatures later this month to put the issue on the 2012 ballot.

Since the proposal is for a constitutional amendment, they must submit a minimum of 259,213 valid signatures of Arizona voters to the secretary of state by July 5, equal to 15 percent of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election.

Like most states, Arizona holds partisan primaries for legislative, congressional and statewide offices, with the top vote-getter from each primary advancing to the general election. Tucson also has partisan primaries.

Creating a single primary in which all candidates and all voters can participate will attract more voters, especially Arizona's growing segment of independents, said Carolyn Allen, a former Republican state senator from Scottsdale.

Independents account for 32 1/2 percent of Arizona voters, a greater share than Democrats. They don't turn out in big numbers for primaries because they're only allowed to pick one party's ballot and stick with it for that primary election.

The coalition proposes a system similar to one used in Washington and one that California voters approved last year. Many city governments in Arizona also use a similar system, including Phoenix and Mesa.

The effort to change Arizona's primaries began this past spring and was fueled by organizers' disgust over what they said was the drift of state politics to the far right.

Coalition members cite loosened gun restriction and presidential "birther" bills in the Legislature. Those events, coupled with the prolonged debt-ceiling debate in Washington, have created a "maximum level of frustration" among many voters, Yuhas said.

The coalition is directed by former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, former Pinnacle West Chairman Bill Post and Paulina Morris, a Phoenix attorney and former GOP candidate for Congress.

Johnson said there's a marked difference between how a candidate runs in a nonpartisan primary and how he or she runs in a party primary. Partisan primaries require candidates to appeal to the most fervent voters in their party, who often represent views more extreme than the mainstream, he said.

Critics have said the switch to a wide-open primary could benefit the candidate with the greatest name identification or the deepest pockets, and Washington state's experience over two elections cycles has not boosted voter turnout.

The proposed system would not affect presidential preferential elections.

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com