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Should Arizona's Democrats allow independents to vote in primary? It's up for debate

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Posted at 2:27 PM, Sep 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-20 18:31:16-04

PHOENIX — Maricopa county recorder Adrian Fontes will be bringing reams of papers with him to the State Democratic meeting tomorrow.

Fontes will ask the state committee to allow him to introduce an emergency resolution that will open Arizona’s presidential preference election to the state’s almost 1.3 million independents, or “party not declared” registrants. Since its creation in 1996, the presidential preference election has been a “closed” election, which means that voters that wish to participate must be registered in one of the state’s recognized political parties.

Fontes said that if the resolution passes, he believes that the Democrats would simply mirror the more open rules of the Arizona primaries that are held in August of election years in which independent voters would be considered eligible but would still have to request a ballot for the party of their preference. In his view this is a consistent application of the rules.

“It’s the right thing to do, it’s that simple,” Fontes said. “I got elected to help better the system and this will make the system easier to understand, and that’s better for all voters.”

Arizona’s 2016 presidential preference election made national headlines when Maricopa county voters were forced to stand in hours long lines in order to cast their ballot for a presidential candidate. While much of the blame for the problems was attributed to a historic rise in turnout, combined with a consolidation of polling places by then-county recorder Helen Purcell, voter confusion on whether they were eligible to vote in the election played a major role as well. In the August election, independents voting at the polls are used to requesting their partisan ballot from a poll worker once they get to the front of the line.

Chris Herstam, an active member of the Democratic party for the last four years, prior to being a Republican lawmaker, said he thought it was a great idea.

“The Democratic Party is inclusive, and it can further demonstrate its inclusiveness by welcoming independents to vote in its presidential preference elections,” Herstam told ABC15.

Other Democrats were less confident it would pass. Once state committee member that asked not to be named thought that Fontes was not doing himself too many favors with the party. “He will have to sway half the crowd with one impassioned speech that will convince some, but I don’t see it happening," the person said.

Arizona’s Presidential Preference Election will take place on March, 17, 2020. It is scheduled on the back half of the democratic primary schedule, and on the same days as Florida, Illinois and Ohio hold their state primaries.