To their credit, Arizonans are generally open to ideas about how to make their government better and more responsive to their needs. The Open Elections/Open Government Initiative is the latest "good government" measure voters will have the chance to decide on this November. What most Arizonan's don't know is just how much Top Two primaries would shut out average voters from elections and undermine the protections of the Voting Rights Act.
The Open Elections/Open Government Initiative would bring Top Two elections to Arizona. This means party primaries would be abolished in favor of an open first election round where any voter could support any candidate. The top two candidates then advance to the general election, in a sort of runoff, regardless of political party. Supporters of the measure believe this system (already adopted in some form in Louisiana, California, and Washington) guarantees more politically moderate elections because candidates lose the incentive to appeal to the "radical" wings of their political parties in partisan primaries. Former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson and his supporters have spent over $600,000 on a media blitz trying to woo voters into believing this without once mentioning how much the average voter will be excluded under his new system.
If Top Two comes to Arizona, its political parties will have to follow Washington and California's lead and set up an endorsing caucus system. Rather than holding party primaries open to the public, political party activists on all sides will nominate their pick ahead of the first voting round in closed-door caucuses among party activists. This is the exact opposite of "open elections," as laypersons in each party will be forced to decide whether to back a party establishment candidate or vote for a self-starter sure to drown in the chaos of the open first round. Any hope for an independent or third party candidate is all but obliterated by a measure claiming to represent political moderates.
The measure also threatens Arizona's newly-redrawn minority protection districts with vote dilution. Voting Rights districts depend on party primaries that help minority communities come together in a politically insular environment to resolve disputes and build support for the community's preferred candidate. Forcing open these primaries threatens vote splitting and other political tactics that could undo protections for Arizona's protected minorities. African American and Latino voters would be forced into a corner where they must simultaneously encourage voter participation but discourage multiple minority candidates from running. This spells a future of even worse political fiefdoms and low voter turnout in Arizona. Proponents of the measure have to to publicly address any of these issues, choosing instead to stay on message with vague promises of a quick fix to broken politics in the Southwest.
When it comes to measures like this, Arizona's moderate voters need to understand they are the people they have been looking for. No jar to the system is going to rid Arizona of its incendiary politicians until voters show up and clean their electoral house. In sum, the Open Government/Open Elections Initiative stands to make Arizona's political problems much, much worse because it cuts out the very people who could actually make a difference: Us.