Open Primaries

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The Open Primaries group has launched a campaign to help independent voters further reform Arizona’s electoral process. Open Primaries Arizona Latino Outreach Coordinator Armida Lopez talks about the campaign.

JOSE CARDENAS: Good evening. I'm Jose Cardenas. Tonight on "Horizonte" we'll talk about the campaign to overhaul Arizona's primary election system. Plus, a program allowing parents who are legally in the U.S. to apply for refugee status for their children who are living in three countries in Central America. And in Sounds of Cultura SoC, learn about the performance collective, La Pocha Nostra. All this coming up next on "Horizonte."

VIDEO: Funding for "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions by the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station.

JOSE CARDENAS: Good evening and thanks for joining us. Recent polling data by the group Open Primaries shows that Arizona voters support election reforms, with 72% polled feeling there are flaws in Arizona's current closed primary system. In support of this movement in Arizona, Open Primaries has launched a campaign to help independent voters further reform Arizona's electoral process. Joining me to talk is Armida Lopez, Arizona Latino Outreach coordinator for the group Open Primaries. Thanks for joining us this evening.

ARMIDA LOPEZ: Thank you for having me.

JOSE CARDENAS: Tell us exactly what it is Open Primaries is looking to do.

ARMIDA LOPEZ: We are part of a national organization that seeks to support local efforts around the different states in the country that are wanting to open the primary election process so that every registered voter regardless of their party affiliation can participate in primary elections.

JOSE CARDENAS: And it's not just that independents can vote in the democratic and Republican primary. You're also looking to change how the candidates are selected for the general?

ARMIDA LOPEZ: Yes. So in primary election process, every candidate regardless of their party is on the same ballot and you as the voter have the opportunity to choose the best candidate for the job. So it levels the playing field for both the candidates as well as the voters to have participation in the primary election.

JOSE CARDENAS: Now, you're not talking about letting independents vote in the Republican primary and then letting them vote if they haven't already voted I assume in the democratic. You're talking about rather massive change.

ARMIDA LOPEZ: Yes. This would be a definite change to our current system because you have now both Democrats and Republicans as well as any other candidate that wants to run, whether it be independent, have an ability to face every voter in their district as opposed to say, just their base or just their own party.

JOSE CARDENAS: So there would be one primary.

ARMIDA LOPEZ: One primary election.

JOSE CARDENAS: And this is -- and then the two top vote getters would run in the general?

ARMIDA LOPEZ: Correct. So it would be a top-two system where the candidates with the most -- the top two candidates with the most votes go on to the general election, therefore you might have two Republicans, two Democrats, maybe a Democrat and an independent, it's about the candidates getting the most votes that get to go on.

JOSE CARDENAS: And without changing the boundaries of the districts, you're not proposing that right?

ARMIDA LOPEZ: No. Not at all.

JOSE CARDENAS: How does this make any difference, if you have a district that's already heavily Republican, what difference does it make if you open it up to independents?

ARMIDA LOPEZ: It's a good question. So currently in the state of Arizona, the largest registered party is independents. So about 38% of registered voters are independent. They're pretty much excluded from being able to participate in the primary election process because each party has a closed primary, where they elected their own candidates. We're proposing that an open primary system, you have candidates that are willing to listen to every person in their constituency, therefore having a more well-rounded candidate that will hopefully move on to the general elections and therefore, once they're in the legislature we'll see better legislation, better coalition building, working across the aisle to benefit the public at large.

JOSE CARDENAS: Now is it really going to make any difference? Because independents have a reputation for not voting.

ARMIDA LOPEZ: Well, that has been the case that many people would say that. However, we do feel that when independents aren't able to participate in a more fair way, in the sense that you have as an independent, I have to register under a party to be able to exercise my right to vote, we're saying you as an American have the right to vote regardless of your party affiliation by opening up the primary election process. You get to do that. Everybody gets to vote.

JOSE CARDENAS: And what I just said about independents is even more true of the Latino voters, a criticism is that Latinos don't vote.

ARMIDA LOPEZ: Yes. We are doing better. We are now, you know, coming out slowly but surely, we're turning out. However, why this is important is because Latinos now in record numbers are registering as independent and therefore, too, are being excluded from the primary election process.

JOSE CARDENAS: So what are you doing? You're in charge of Latino outreach? What does that mean?

ARMIDA LOPEZ: I seek to get in front of as many Latinos before election day in November of 2016 to educate them about the open primary system, why it's important that we participate in primary elections as well as why we are being excluded from the process, unless we do something to reform the primary election system, we will see Latinos being alienated from exercising our right to vote.

JOSE CARDENAS: And reform will take the form of a ballot initiative? In the 2016 election?

ARMIDA LOPEZ: That's correct. It will be a statewide ballot initiative that we will get to vote on in November of 2016. We are doing it by process of referendum so in the early part of next year we'll start collecting signatures, get a proposition number probably by the summer and vote on it in the general election.

JOSE CARDENAS: Between now and the end of the year is there any special activities you're involved in to try to get awareness of the campaign?

ARMIDA LOPEZ: Yes, we're having our first Latino cultural event this Friday at the Arizona Latino arts and cultural center, where we seek to bring out as many people to come out and have a good time. We're having some mariachis and we're also going to release part of our polling that we did for the Latino community in regards to open primaries. So there will be some learning and education involved as well, a good time.

JOSE CARDENAS: One last question. If people want more information about open primaries and things they can do to get involved, how do they get it?

ARMIDA LOPEZ: Very easy. Get on our website, www.openprimaries.org. Encouraging more people to join our movement, get educated, the more people know, the more people are supporting our efforts.

JOSE CARDENAS: And is there a number that they can call?

ARMIDA LOPEZ: They can. We have a local number, they can reach us at (623)428-1228, where we're happy to get people if they want to volunteer, they want to get more involved, learn more, we are expanding our movement every day.

JOSE CARDENAS: Armida Lopez, thanks for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about this project.

ARMIDA LOPEZ: Thank you, I appreciate it.

Armida Lopez : Open Primaries Arizona Latino Outreach Coordinator

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