More Arizona voters going independent

by Alex Stuckey – Jul. 9, 2012 09:19 PM
The Republic |

Voter frustration with political hyper-partisanship in Arizona may explain the swell over the past two years in registered independents — a change that some political insiders deem dangerous.

The biggest increase in independents occurred between June 2010 and July 2011, and the numbers have basically stayed flat over the past year.

During the two-year period, the number of registered Republicans jumped about 14,000.

But in just the past year, the number of registered Democrats dropped by more than 52,000, according to a Secretary of State’s Office recently released report.

Of the 3.1 million registered voters in Arizona, about 36 percent are Republican, about 30 percent are Democrats and about 33 percent are independents, according to the report.

The growth in independents is a trend surging through the entire country.

By 2011, more than 2.5 million voters nationwide had left the Republican and Democrat parties since the 2008 elections, according to a USA Today analysis.

“Voters are getting kind of tired and disgusted with the tone of politics nowadays. It seems to them like it’s just yelling and screaming at each other,” said Frank Camacho, Arizona Democratic Party spokesman. “(Candidates) don’t focus on the issues, they say: ‘Vote for me because the other guy’s a jerk.’ ”

As voters become increasingly fed up with the tone of the two parties, they drop their affiliation and become independents, which means party primaries are increasingly dominated by the fringes, said Paul Johnson, chairman of the Open Elections/Open Government initiative, which is pushing for an open primary in the state.

If the initiative is put to a vote and passes, the state would hold one primary where candidates for a given office would compete against each other. The top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, would move onto the general election. People could register to vote using whatever party they choose instead of having to identify themselves as an independent, Democrat, Green, Libertarian or Republican.

With the current system, the extreme voters push candidates to fight for an ultra-conservative or ultra-liberal standpoints on issues, which then causes even more voters to drop out of the party, Johnson said.

“The two-party system is in huge trouble, we have to start looking at a system that allows those people to have an equal playing field,” he said.

The problem: Most independents don’t vote in the primary even though they only have to ask for a specific party ballot. Only about 12 percent of registered independent voters actually cast a ballot in the 2010 primary, said Matt Roberts, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office.

On Thursday, initiative backers turned about 365,000 signatures in to the Secretary of State’s Office, bringing them one step closer to putting the option of an open primary on the ballot in November.

The initiative will know in about a month if the measure has qualified for the ballot.

“It would provide elected officials an incentive to work with other people and their constituents,” Johnson said.

Although Camacho said he recognizes the problems with the political system, he said the Democratic party is doing its part to bring more people into the party.

“Voters are turned off by this ‘No, no, no,’ stuff … we try to provide voters with a vision of where we’d like the state to go and look at the issues that are really important to most voters (in the state) and kind of focus on them and come up with real-world solutions,” Camacho said.

Tim Sifert, Arizona Republican Party spokesman, attributes the jump in independents to uncertainty about the issues.

But as independent numbers continue to grow, Johnson thinks the trend won’t change until politicians begin working together, regardless of party.

“What people want is for politicians to cross the aisle and work with the other side,” Johnson said.

“In city elections, those officials cross the aisle and appeal to voters … that’s what people want,” he added.

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