There is a national network of reformers seeking nonpartisan elections that are bringing support to the movement in Arizona. Jacqueline Salit, president of IndependentVoting.org, will be in Phoenix for two days of strategy meetings and will tell us more about the effort.
TED SIMONS: Coming up next on Arizona Horizon, we'll hear from a national advocate for non partisan voting, also the City of Phoenix gets a grant to clean up contaminated properties, and a look at technically grounded visions of the future. Those stories next on Arizona Horizon.
VIDEO: Arizona Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight. Members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.
TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to Arizona Horizon. I'm Ted Simons. The national political reform network is traveling around the country pushing the concept of non partisan elections. Joining us now is Jacqueline Salit, President of independentvoting.org, which is in Phoenix for two days, of strategy meetings. Good to have you back on the show.
JACQUELINE SALIT: Well thank you for having me.
TED SIMONS: Independentvoting.org, first of all, what is that?
JACQUELINE SALIT: We are a national organization that represents independent voters, all around the country. We have affiliates in over 40 states. We represent the 42% of the electorate today who are independents.
TED SIMONS: Is this an anti-party group? Or is it a pro independent group?
JACQUELINE SALIT: It's a pro independent group, but a group of Americans who believe that the parties have too much power, and that they have overstepped their bounds in many ways, and that we need to take steps to make the political system less partisan, and more inclusive and developmental. More democratic.
TED SIMONS: Such as?
JACQUELINE SALIT: Well, for example, the issue of primary voting is a big one in the country today. And half the states prohibit independence from voting in primaries, and other states allow independents to participate in altered or limited kinds of ways. When you have a situation where so many people are saying, I don't want to be in a political party, I don't want to vote for the party but for the candidate. I want to be free to choose and move all over the political field to pick what I think is the best person to represent me and my community and so forth. You are talking about having to make serious systemic and structural changes in the way the primary process is conducted but in the way the political process is organized.
TED SIMONS: And we talk about independent voters, as well, it's the biggest voting block in Arizona.
JACQUELINE SALIT: Yes.
TED SIMONS: Is now the independent voters.
JACQUELINE SALIT: Exactly.
TED SIMONS: And is that a good thing? Some will tell you that Arizona has never been more partisan.
JACQUELINE SALIT: Well, I think those two things go together in the following sense, which is that more and more people are leaving the parties. Young people coming of age are not registering into the parties. They are becoming independents because they just don't like that partisan culture. And in Arizona, and this is one of the reasons why I'm here, as you mentioned, in your introduction, is that I am working with a coalition of folks in the state who are looking to give voters an option in 2016 to choose a non partisan system of elections. Arizona has that at the municipal level in almost every city. It is reaching a prices to state and national politics, and we have to do something to make the system more open.
TED SIMONS: Arizona was given the decision a couple years ago, and it was overwhelmingly defeated. What do you think of that?
JACQUELINE SALIT: I think it was the first time out. I think that the issue is just coming onto the table, at that point. And I think that the parties came out so strongly, and just really, just beat that thing down and scared voters away from the ideas of systemic change. It's going to be four years later, and frankly, I think the idea of systemic change is not scary any more. I think that people feel that it's necessary, and so, I think that the next time that this issue comes around, and you know, we have wonderful people who are involved in this, Paul Johnson, former Mayor of Phoenix, of course, is a critical person in this, but there is a broad coalition from the business sector, from communities, from the Latino community, from many, many different constituencies and communities who don't ordinarily come together, but they recognize that we're in something of a political crisis, and we need to act.
TED SIMONS: There are those who say that the open primary system, and the open election system just locks in place those who have the power. If it's a Republican state, you are never going to get the charismatic democrat. If it's a democratic state, the Republican with the good ideas can never break through that top two. How do you respond to that.
JACQUELINE SALIT: If you had a non partisan top two system in the state, you would start to see new coalitions forming, and you would start to see a change in the culture. We see this now in states that have the top two systems. There is a very fundamental issue here. Let me see if I can push back a bit on your premise. The principle that's operative here is that no voter should be required to join a political organization as a condition for participating in the political process. See, the whole question of voting rights is being redefined now by the American people. And so, for example, I'm sure you saw that Hillary Clinton, you know, gave a big talk on voting rights last week in Texas, and she delineated a set of things that she thought needed to happen, automatic voter registration, yes. Restore section 5 of the voting rights' act, yes. 20 days of early voting, yes. But, what was interesting, and I think revealing, is that she didn't say one word about the fact that 42% of the country today are independents. We face barriers that are some of the most profound voter suppression issues going on in the country today.
TED SIMONS: Indeed, and we see that as far as the primary voting here. The candidates, especially, is what you see a major factor here, as far as getting enough signatures and those things. But back to the independent voter, Arizona, again, the number one voting block, and yet you will hear time after time from political scientists and pollsters, they are the single most apathetic and least engaged block of voters out there. How do you change -- I mean, the turnout was, I think, under 10%. It's consistently under 10%.
JACQUELINE SALIT: I don't agree that they are apathetic. I think that they are making a statement about what they believe in and what they stand for. See, if you say to independents, well, we have a partisan system here, and now, you should vote, and you should participate in it, it's a little bit like saying to someone who is allergic to peanuts, come over here and have a peanut butter sandwich. People became independents because they really don't like the culture of the parties. And so, even if you do -- what happened here in Arizona, which is that the voters enacted an open primary system, that, in and of itself, doesn't change the culture, that's why I think, for example is, to go back to the Hillary Clinton situation, I, frankly, think it's a form of voter fraud, even though she's looking at the Republicans for making that -- the voter fraud issue an issue when she doesn't think that it is. But if you are going to talk about voter rights, but you are not going to talk about the rights of independent voters, frankly, I think that you are committing a form of voter fraud. We have to demand that the presidential candidates address this issue. This is too big to ignore, too big to sweep it under the rug.
TED SIMONS: Can that -- can you address it better and have more of a voice and get more action if you get more of those independents to the polls? That's how you change things.
JACQUELINE SALIT: But you have to change what it means to go to the polls. Because, the independents have left the party system in terms of their registration and how they define themselves because they are saying look, we don't like the way that parties are operating. We don't want to be categorized, ideologically speaking. We don't want elected officials who are more loyal to the party than they are to the people who elected them. They are demanding by the act of becoming an independent, of the culture change, and I think that now, the issue is, well how are we going to re-engineer the political process to be responsive to that?
TED SIMONS: All right. Good to have you back here and thanks for joining us.
JACQUELINE SALIT: Thanks for having me, Ted.
Jacqueline Salit :President of IndependentVoting.org