Arizonans Say No to "Top-Two" Primaries

Voters overwhelmingly defeated a plan to dramatically change how primaries are conducted.
by , | November 7, 2012

For full election coverage and analysis, go to Governing's 2012 Election Center.

A ballot amendment that would have revolutionized the way voting is conducted in Arizona has failed.

Voters overwhelmingly defeated a plan to replace the current primary system with a "top-two" system, in which all candidates would appear on an initial ballot, and the two receiving the most votes -- regardless of party -- would advance to the general election.

Arizonans rejected the plan, Prop. 121, by a 67 percent-33 percent margin.

Supporters of the effort, led by former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, said it would force lawmakers to be more accountable to their constituents. As it stands, he reasons, most officeholders are in "safe" districts and are thus only accountable to members of their own party who vote in primaries.

Johnson and his allies had hoped that an open primary would force those lawmakers to make their case to a broader spectrum of voters, forcing them to become more moderate, more willing to compromise, and better able to actually govern. California and Washington have recently adopted open primary systems similar to the one proposed in Arizona.

Critics emphasized many of the unintended consequences of the proposed system. Their said it opened up the possibility of general elections with two candidates from the same party, which they argue would alienate large sectors of the electorate and reduce voter choice. State Republicans in particular argued that the plan was an attempt to shift the party to the left.

In the weeks leading up to the election, top-two supporters had questioned the campaign against their proposal.

Save Our Vote, the leading opposition group to Prop. 121, received more than $500,000 in contributions from an Arizona group called Americans for Responsible Leadership, but it's unclear who backs that organization.

On Sunday, the California Supreme Court ordered that Americans for Responsible Leadership -- which funded campaigns in both Arizona and California -- turn over records on its donors, the Arizona Republic reports.

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