Election reform advocates launched a drive to put a ranked choice voting and open primary system on the 2024 ballot, which could end up crowded with two other measures addressing similar subjects.
The initiative by Better Ballot Arizona, the political sister group to Voter Choice Arizona, an educational organization operating in Arizona since 2020, would open primary elections to independent voters and go to a ranking system in the general election, said Kazz Fernandes, the group's executive director.
"You'll have five candidates to choose from on your general election ballot and you can vote for who you want, ranking them in order of preference rather than having to vote against who you hate and just voting for the lesser of two evils," he said.
Fernandes said polling shows "favorable numbers" indicating now is the time to try a ballot measure. The group hopes to gather 500,000 voter signatures by the July 3, 2024, deadline, which would give them plenty of room to spare over the minimum of 383,923 valid signatures required.
The group has an "army" of volunteers and has collected contributions from "small-dollar and medium-dollar sources" but doesn't currently have a major financial backer, Fernandes said.
The group hasn't made the planned measure's language public yet. Gilbert resident and activist Blake Sacha is Voter Choice Arizona's president and the chair of Better Ballot Arizona.
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Earlier this week, another group announced plans for a 2024 ballot measure that would open primary elections to all voters and leave it to the governor and state Legislature to come up with a system for the general election, including how many candidates would appear on the November ballot.
Chuck Coughlin, who's working on that campaign, called the Make Elections Fair Arizona, said his group was working with Voter Choice Arizona until a split in July over the type of plan to be offered.
"There's disagreement, so that's what you're seeing today — a different approach to reform," Coughlin said. "They won't make it, though. Their financial support is not deep enough."
Coughlin touted fundraising that he said raised $3.75 million in the past three weeks, which he said included six Arizonans who "gave over half a million dollars each."
Make Elections Fair will also attempt to collect 500,000 signatures by the July 3 deadline.
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One measure that is certain to be on the ballot is House Concurrent Resolution 2033, sponsored by Rep. Austin Smith, R-Phoenix, which would preserve the primary system throughout the state. It would nullify the other two measures, if it gets the most votes and the others make the ballot. The resolution was passed on party lines and didn't require the governor's signature.
Independent voters have to choose partisan ballots to participate in primary elections now, and have to change their registration if they want to participate in March's presidential preference election.
Fernandes said members of both major parties have opposed ranked-choice voting. But Republicans have voiced the most opposition in Arizona.
The right-wing Arizona Freedom Caucus held a news conference in March at which Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, said the system should be called "rigged-choice voting" because "it disenfranchises voters and allows marginal candidates not supported by a majority of the voters to win elections.”
Arizona GOP Party Chair Jeff DeWit said this week that the Make Elections Fair Act would mean Republicans would be forced to vote for Democrats and vice versa, a system he said voters don't want.
In a statement late Friday, DeWit said ranked-choice voting has caused "massive voter confusion and unhappiness" in states that have tried it, so it's "ironic" that the effort "fractured into two groups with equally bad confusing proposals, neither of which are good for Arizona voters."
Sacha was out of the country, according to Fernandes, but said in a written statement that the current system "disincentivizes working together to solve important problems and provides no reason for elected officials to appeal to a majority of constituents."
"We believe the future of elections in Arizona belongs in the hands of the voters, not the politicians," Sacha said.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona elections: Initiative launches on open primary, ranking system