Arizona voters next year could decide between two competing proposals that would end the state’s current partisan primary system―one would introduce instant-runoff voting to the state, while the other would allow the legislature and governor to decide what election system would be implemented. Republicans, though, have already placed a third proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2024 ballot to safeguard the status quo. If multiple rival amendments passed, only the one with the most “yes” votes would go into effect.
Chuck Coughlin, who works for the election reform group Make Elections Fair Arizona, tells the Arizona Republican that his organization was working with Better Ballot Arizona until July, when they diverged over exactly what plan they should put before voters. Better Ballot Arizona opted to advocate for the top-five primary: All the candidates would run in one primary and the five contenders with the most support, regardless of party, would advance to a ranked-choice general election. While no state has used this particular top-five primary system before, Nevada voters will decide next year if they want to put it into place, and Alaska voters adopted a similar top-four primary in 2020.
Make Elections Fair Arizona, meanwhile, is trying a different strategy. Its amendment would also end party primaries starting in 2026, but it would leave it up to Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs and the legislature to decide whether two, three, four, or five candidates would reach the general election. If they can’t reach an agreement, though, it would be up to the secretary of state―a post currently held by Democrat Adrian Fontes―to make this call.
Ranked-choice voting would be used for the second round of voting if more than two contenders are allowed to move forward, but the GOP’s hatred of instant-runoff voting means that this almost certainly wouldn’t happen as long as the party maintains its narrow majorities in both chambers. Indeed, the head of the pro-top-five Voter Choice Arizona, Kazz Fernandes, argues that the most likely outcome would be the adoption of the top-two primary system currently in use in two states, California and Washington.
Fernandes insists this would be unacceptable, predicting it would “not alleviate the spoiler effect or negative campaigning, wouldn’t increase healthy competition, would shut-out independents, and wouldn’t provide Arizonans the choices they deserve.” And as we’ve written before, the top-two primary ensures that both parties need to be on guard to make sure that they don’t get locked out of the general election even if they would be favored in the general election, which has happened to both Democrats and Republicans in California.
But GOP legislators don’t even like the top-two, and they voted months ago to put their own amendment on the ballot to preserve the partisan primary system as well as ban instant-runoff voting. Make Elections Fair Arizona and Better Ballot Arizona, though, must each collect about 384,000 valid signatures by July 3 in order to also put their proposals before voters.
“They won’t make it,” Coughlin predicted of the top-five plan. “Their financial support is not deep enough.” He noted that his organization already has brought in $3.75 million over the past month, including from six residents who “gave over half a million dollars each.” Fernandes acknowledged his side currently doesn’t have big contributors behind it, but he predicted that their “army” of volunteers and “small-dollar and medium-dollar sources” would help it gain a place on the ballot.