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Arizona Nonprofit Seeks to Make Primary Elections Nonpartisan

August 4, 2022

By Corinne Murdock |

A new nonprofit, Save Democracy, wants to make primary elections nonpartisan through a forthcoming ballot initiative. They haven’t launched a formal campaign yet, but mentioned an aim to make the 2024 ballot. 

The organization advocates for election reforms like ranked-choice voting (RCV), which proposes that individuals rank candidates into a preference list when voting. Two red states, Utah and Alaska, and nine blue states — California, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, and New York — all have some form of RCV system in play. Save Democracy also advocates for unaffiliated candidates to be listed in primary elections.

“Until our system encourages broader voter turnout and equal treatment of candidates, it will continue to support tiny minorities of voters deciding the outcome of elections,” states the nonprofit on its website. 

Arizona allows independent voters to vote in primaries via an open primary provision, so long as they request the type of ballot they want to receive. However, independent voters must change their voter registration for presidential preference elections. And, unlike Democratic and Republican primaries, the Libertarian Party has a closed primary.

However, Save Democracy declares that Arizona elections aren’t open because they’re favored to serve partisanship over independent candidacy. 

The nonprofit’s leadership consists of Sarah Smallhouse, Si Schorr, Ted Hinderaker, and Don Budinger. 

Since 2005, Smallhouse has donated over $15,300 to Democrats and over $7,600 to Republicans at the federal level (though none of her Republican donations were in the last decade).  

Since 2004, Schorr has donated nearly $18,400 to Democrats and none to Republicans at the federal level. 

Since 2006, Hinderaker has donated nearly $3,500 to Democrats and over $3,500 to Republicans at the federal level. 

Since 2000, Budinger has donated over $74,100 to Democrats and $58,400 to Republicans at the federal level.

Smallhouse, Budinger, and Schorr have all served in leadership within the Southern Arizona Leadership Council (SALC); Smallhouse and Hinderacker both serve leadership roles on University of Arizona (UArizona) boards.

SALC is an association of C-suite business and community leaders. Past board chairs hailed from Arizona State University (ASU) and giant corporations like Tucson Electric Power, Raytheon Missile SystemsIBM, Cox Communications, and Southwest Gas. In addition to Save Democracy, their partners include the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR), Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association (AHHA), Chicanos Por La Causa, and the ASU Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

Most notably in recent years, SALC coordinated a campaign to defeat Prop 205, a ballot measure that would have established a sanctuary city in Tucson. 

Smallhouse, a longtime Democratic donor, pointed out in a June article that independent and “other” voters outnumbered partisan alternatives. Over 1.4 million voters (33 percent) are registered as “other,” closing in on well over 1.4 million registered Republicans (34 percent) and outnumbering the 1.3 million registered Democrats (31 percent). The number of “other” voters increased by over 128,200 since the 2020 election, outpacing the near-44,900 growth of Republican registrations by nearly three times over. 

Smallhouse argued that elections weren’t competitive enough to reflect this voter demographic.

“Our current partisan primary system, paid for by all taxpayers, excludes certain candidates and creates massive barriers to participation for voters not affiliated with a political party,” wrote Smallhouse. 

Two high-profile members of Save Democracy, when it comes to issues of election integrity and voter rights, are State Senator Paul Boyer (R-Glendale) and Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer.

Also members are Pima County Supervisor Rex Scott, Tucson Metro Chamber of Commerce Chairman Edmund Marquez, former Republican congressman Jim Kolbe, former Democratic congressman Ron Barber, former Phoenix mayor and Redirect Health CEO Paul Johnson, former Mesa mayor Scott Smith, Arizona State University (ASU) assistant vice president of media relations Jay Thorne, SALC director Nicole Barraza, Voter Choice Arizona executive member Blake Sacha, Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture Executive Director Paul Brierley, S+C Communications co-founder Chip Scutari, Duncan Family Farms board chairman Arnott Duncan, Water Policy and State Affairs Senior Director Kevin Moran, and Greater Phoenix Leadership Executive Vice President Heather Carter. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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