Bill Montgomery: Prop 121 would change democracy in Arizona

| September 27 2012

In just a few weeks, Arizonans will vote on whether or not to fundamentally change the way elections – in fact, democracy in our state – works.

After protracted legal wrangling, Proposition 121 will appear on the November 6 ballot. If it passes, this initiative would create what is called a “Top-Two Primary” system – an open primary for every office except president and vice president. The top two finishers in a primary election, regardless of party affiliation, would then face off in the general election.

While Prop. 121’s official title is the “Open Elections/Open Government Act,” don’t let the name fool you. While proponents say it would present voters with “real choices” between “candidates who better represent all the people of Arizona rather than just the extreme views of narrow interests, the political bosses, and lobbyists,” in reality nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, voters will have fewer choices in a General Election when their vote counts the most with the very real possibility that 2 candidates from the same party would be the ONLY choices voters would have.

I reject the argument that a Top-Two system paves the way for a more democratic process. An open primary does not guarantee that kind of result. This effort is an attempt to manage voter behavior, which is an elitist worldview and, frankly, out of step with the desire of the vast majority of Arizona voters.

Versions of the “Top-Two” system are in place in Louisiana, Washington State and California. While there is a push for more states to adopt “Top Two” across the country, voters should beware. If proponents of “Top Two” were completely honest, they would label it the “Political Consultant Full Employment Act.” In California, one GOP pollster says that, from a financial standpoint, it’s better for consultants but might not be so good for candidates, while a Democratic strategist calls it “a goldmine” for political consultants.

Contrary to its stated intention, Top-Two would actually inhibit third-party candidates from participating in elections. That’s because if only the top two vote-getters proceed to the general election, no independent or third party (such as Libertarian or Green Party) candidates could gain access to the general election ballot. In many instances, the general election ballot would be limited to a choice between two Democrats or two Republicans. In fact, this November voters in one in every five California congressional districts will choose from two candidates from the same party.

I urge you to educate yourself about Prop. 121 and share your knowledge with family and friends. When you learn more about it, I feel you will agree with me that this misguided measure would do more harm than good to Arizona’s electoral system. I also invite you to log ontowww.stoptoptwo.org to learn more about the effort to defeat similar ballot initiatives which are springing up across the country.

Until Next Time,

Bill Montgomery

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