Arizona Democratic Party denies proposal to open presidential preference election

Illustration by Brooke Berry

Following the cancellation of the Republican presidential preference election in Arizona, the Democratic Party denied a motion to open their primary to Arizona voters outside the party.

According to Arizona Democratic Party records, the resolution concerning the presidential preference election was rejected at the Sept. 21 state committee meeting.

Maricopa County recorder Adrian Fontes was the creator and main supporter of the proposal.

In an opinion piece for The Arizona Republic published Aug. 7, Fontes called for the primary to be opened and explained his rationale for supporting the move.

“It's time for my party, the Arizona Democratic Party, to open the 2020 presidential primary to independent voters,” Fontes wrote. “It’s possible that the Democratic Party’s nominee will be the next president of the United States. Arizona’s independent voters must have a say in the selection of a nominee where any party has a contest.”

In a video posted by Yvonne Sanchez, a reporter for The Arizona Republic, Arizona Democratic Party resolution committee members discussed the proposal at the Sept. 21 meeting. During the deliberation, Doug Ballard, a Democratic National Committee member and co-chair of the resolutions committee, said the leader of the party should be selected only by its members.

“When we pick our nominee for the party, we’re also picking our party leader,” Ballard said. “So I don’t know that everyone should agree with opening up our presidential primaries.”

C.J. Briggle, temporary co-chair of the resolutions committee, shared her thoughts on the proposal, also taking a stand against opening the election.

Briggle largely dismissed concerns that independents are excluded from the election, saying voters only need to change their party affiliation to cast a ballot.

"There is that opportunity to ... change your party affiliation in order to be able to vote. That's a very simple thing to do," Briggle said. "We are not excluding independents, we're asking them to choose a party."

Sophomore Kai Simson, the president of the NAU Young Democrats, supports the ability of independent voters to cast ballots in Democratic primaries.

“I believe in the idea that everyone should be able to have a voice in our democratic process, so this would mean that we should allow them to vote,” Simson said.

However, she has not always believed that independents should be part of the process. Simson said the people around her caused her opinion on this issue to shift.

“For a long time, I was opposed to the idea that independents should vote in the Democratic primary, because they weren’t Democrats. But my opinion on this has changed,” Simson said. “The reason for this is because I have a lot of friends that are independents, and they want to be able to vote in the Democratic primary.”

Simson said other members of the NAU Young Democrats club agree with her on the issue.

“There has been some discussion about this issue. From what I heard from many of the club members, they want independents to be allowed to vote in our primary,” Simson said. “That is the consensus among most of the members.”

In a previous interview for The Lumberjack, Dan Howle, the executive director of the Independent Voter Project, discussed presidential primaries in Arizona. Howle rejected the notion that parties should set their own rules for primaries.

“Voters should say how we are going to hold an election,” Howle said.

Howle said minority voters are more likely to register as independents. The advocate for independent voters explained that when independents are excluded from primaries, racial minorities are typically disproportionately affected.

“Minority voters have a higher tendency to not choose a political party,” Howle said. “Minority voters are underrepresented in primaries.”

With the rejection of Fontes' proposal to open the presidential preference election, the election will continue March 17, 2020 for Democratic voters only. However, the primary for local and statewide elections will remain open to other voters.