Voter Registration

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Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett talks about the latest voter registration numbers that are showing an upward trend for Independent voters.

Ted Simons: New voter registration numbers are out and they show independents making the most gains. There are more than 3.1 million registered voters in Arizona, an increase of over 15,000 since April. More than 1.1 million of those voters are registered Republicans, a decrease of just over 2,000. A little over a million of Arizona's voters are registered Democrats, for a loss of just over 1,000. Libertarians gained a thousand voters for a total of more than 21,000, and the green party added 19 people. They're now just over 4200. But the big winners were independent voters, with an increase of over 17,000 since April for a total of nearly 900,000. Here now to talk about those voter registration numbers and other things is Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Ken Bennett: Hi, Ted. How are you doing?

Ted Simons: I'm doing well. Independents are doing well, too. What's going on here?

Ken Bennett: We've been seeing this trend since probably the mid '70s, where independent voters have been increasing but it's just really picked up the pace in the last, especially decade. It's really almost doubled in the last 10 years. From just under 15% to almost 30% of the voters and independent are no -- or not affiliated with the two big parties.

Ted Simons: There you go. Is Arizona a little bits of a bellwether here? Are we different than other states?

Ken Bennett: Well, of five or six comparable western states, most are showing the same trend we're showing where independents are increasing. There's actually a couple, Oregon and California, I think, where independents have actually decreased a little bit. But most western states are showing an increase in independent registration.

Ted Simons: So we have Republicans at 1.1 million, Democrats at 1 million, and independents not affiliates with 900,000.

Ken Bennett: Yeah.

Ted Simons: What does that do to the dynamic of the state here?

Ken Bennett: Well, it makes it very difficult for candidates, especially in need of party, when they are trying run a primary since we have open primaries in Arizona, it makes it more difficult for a candidate to narrow what their population of potential voters are because in Arizona, they can decide to vote in either of the primaries up to a certain point. And it makes it a little tougher to know who your target audience is.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask about the open primary system. Is that encouraging, you three-point think, pokes to register independent?

Ken Bennett: I have seen no definitive study so we can point to this many people are impacted by it but I think anecdotally you have two things going on. One is a general dissatisfaction of voters to both of the two main parties. And then especially in Arizona, you have the phenomenon that, because you are allowed to vote in the open primary except for the presidential preference primaries, which did catch a few voters off guard this year. A lot of independents who were used to being able to vote in statewide and legislative offices, were caught off guard and not allowed to vote in the presidential primary. That seems to be the one draw back to registering as an independent in Arizona. But other than that, it seems to be attractive to a lot of people.

Ted Simons: Speculation on your part but do you see this continuing? Because fit does at this rate, independents could very possibly be number one on the list in a few years.

Ken Bennett: Well, there certainly is no indication that it's slowing. And so, yeah, it would not take long at these rates for them to catch the Democrats and then the Republicans soon thereafter.

Ted Simons: More speculation. Last question on this. Why is it that folks are not affiliated as opposed to a ground swell out there for a third party? Does that mean that independents aren't necessarily in that nether region between Democrats and Republican, they are all over the map and don't want to be part of a party?

Ken Bennett: Yeah, I think there's quite a few indicators that would suggest that even people that register independent seem to kind of fall, usually, in the same proportions as the two main parties. We have seen, I think, the Obama election probably broke that trend a little bit. But usually the independents will break similar to the way the Republicans and Democrats are otherwise configured. And I don't think it's a group that are necessarily looking for a third party. It's just that they don't feel comfortable being identified solely with either Republican or Democrat and they are going to call themselves independent and vote one way or the other depending on who is there. I think it shows an interest in the candidates as being more important perhaps than the party which used to be maybe party first.

Ted Simons: Yeah. While we have you here, clean elections. I know statewide candidates are coming up. They can start collecting donations when?

Ken Bennett: Well, candidates for, that are running under that system for statewide office can start collecting their $5 contributions August 1st. The legislative candidates can start in January of next year.

Ted Simons: In general what kind of numbers are you looking at if you are considering running as a clean recollection candidate? How many of those contributions do you need? I know it's different.

Ken Bennett: Well, it starts at the top, the governor, you are up in the 4500 $5 contributions. My office and attorney general drops into the 2700's and it goes down. For a legislative office you are in about the 220 range. And essentially, that was part of the mechanism of this system that, instead of proving your worthiness to be on the ballot by collecting signatures, enough signatures to be the Republican or Democrat party nominee, part of proving your legitimacy, I guess, was could you get enough people to give you $5 each? And it goes from a couple hundred if you want to run for the legislature all wait up to 4500 if you want to run for the governor.

Ted Simons: I think we are going to talk about this in much more detail in the week but right now, as far as the suit regarding clean elections and matching funds, still in the courts but that has to make for a lot of uncertainty with a lot of candidates out there.

Ken Bennett: It is and we are hearing in our office where they file some of those people, that paperwork, that people are really hesitant to declare quite yet. Because one of the main features of that publicly funded system was that if you chose to be in the system, and you had a privately funded candidate, if they started raising tons of money you could get automatically matched. And keep up with them but that may go by the way house depending on what the courts do and many if not most are expecting they will eliminate that aspect.

Ted Simons: Of course, the question is when. That court case could drag out for quite a while.

Ken Bennett: Everyone is expecting it sometime this summer. We could have something hopefully very soon.

Ted Simons: Very good. Always a pleasure to see you.

Ken Bennett: My pleasure, Ted. Thanks.

Ken Bennett:Arizona Secretary of State;

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