Here we go again…another non-partisan ‘top two primary’ initiative


StopTop2Here we go again . . . The Arizona Republic, whose editors advocated for former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson’s “Top Two Primary” Proposition 121 in 2012 — which was overwhelmingly rejected by voters 67-33% — are giving space in the editorial pages to Johnson and his cohorts for their second ballot measure attempt being planned for 2016, this time a “Top Two Primary” that requires “non-partisan” elections. “Death to political parties!

Today’s “As I See it” op-ed from Jacqueline Salit, author of “Independents Rising” and president of, boldly declares “My message to Hillary, woman to woman, is this. If you are not prepared to challenge your own party to fight for voter freedom for all the American people, then you shouldn’t be president. And that goes for Jeb and Bernie and Carly and Rand and Marco and Martin and the rest.” Are voting rights for all voters? Let’s ask Hillary.

In other words, if a candidate does not support her agenda for “non-partisan” elections, “fuck ’em.”

Ms. Salit posits that “what was telling about Hillary’s roaring rhetoric (she’s a feminist, we’re going to hear a lot of roaring) is what was missing from it: the rights of independent voters and the need to reform the primary system to make it inclusive and nonpartisan. Without addressing those issues, her voting rights appeal is, in effect, a form of voter fraud.”

Ms. Salit clearly does not know the meaning of the term “voter fraud,” i.e., a voter who is either ineligible to register to vote or to cast a vote, who nonetheless casts a ballot unlawfully in an election. This has nothing at all to do with what Ms. Salit describes. She is bastardizing the term “voter fraud’ to suit her agenda.

Ms. Salit’s actual complaint is that “independents” cannot vote in the political parties’ presidential primaries, which are closed primaries. Ms. Salit has little regard for the First Amendment right of freedom of association: “There can no longer be any doubt that freedom to associate with others for the common advancement of political beliefs and ideas is a form of ‘orderly group activity’ protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. . . . The right to associate with the political party of one’s choice is an integral part of this basic constitutional freedom.'” Kusper v. Pontikes, 414 U.S. 51, 56 -57 (1973). Funny how Ms. Salit fails to acknowledge this “basic constitutional freedom.” Her selfish desire to “crash the party,” so to speak, is more important than basic constitutional freedoms.

In Arizona, “independents” can vote in the political parties’ primaries for all other offices, all they have to do is to request a ballot for the party of their choice. Yet “independents” routinely fail to vote in party primaries — and general elections as well. This is their own fault, for which they will accept no blame.

Their excuse for lack of civic engagement is that they “dislike both political parties.”  They fail to understand or to accept that it is their own lack of civic engagement and participation in a political party that produces the candidates that appear on the ballot. When one fails to participate, one leaves it to those who do to make the decisions for them. As Woody Allen said, “Showing up is 80 percent of life.

“Independents” have been mythologized by media villagers. I have addressed this previously. Media Villagers believe in unicorns: the ‘independent’ voter panacea:

[T]he media villagers’ theory is complete bunk. It has been debunked by political science. Sorry media villagers, ‘independents’ are not nonpartisan or centrists:

Over the years I have posted about political science studies which demonstrate that “independent” voters are actually partisan “leaners.”

Data from the American National Election Study analyzed by political science professor Alan I. Abramowitz of Emory University showed that in 2008, independents made up 40 percent of eligible voters, but only 33 percent of those who actually voted. Only 7 percent of the total voted as true independents with no party preference. The other indies were clearly “leaners” for one party or the other. ‘Swing’ voters remain partisan – Chicago Tribune.

Screenshot-14Don’t bother telling the media villagers this. They are committed to their “independent voters are nonpartisan” and “centrists” (or “moderates”) meme, the facts be damned.

* * *

John Sides at the Washington Monthly’s Ten Miles Square tries, once again, to correct this media disinformation. Independents Are Mostly Partisans, Chapter Gazillion:

Here are a couple graphs for the next time you hear that the “independents are the largest group of American voters” and some species of “to appeal to this vast number of independents you have to take moderate positions.”  Graphs are courtesy of the new Pew Center report (p.28 and 98 of the pdf):

First, most independents lean toward a party:


You can see that only 12% of respondents did not identify with or lean toward a party in the most recent survey.

Second, independents who lean toward a party have not differed much from partisans on key political values:

PewleanersThe Pew Research Center study is actually titled “Partisan Polarization Surges in Bush, Obama Years.” Media villagers should maybe, you know, actually read the report.

I can tell you from personal experience from working voter registration and candidate booths this year that an unusually large number of  “No Party Preference” (NOP) voters told me “I didn’t know I could vote in the primary election.” This is partly the fault of low information voters, but it is also the fault of our Secretary of State and County election directors not doing enough public service announcements to educate NOP voters of their right to vote in party primary elections.

The larger point is that  NOP voters, wrongly identified as “Independent” voters by the media villagers, are actually “Leaners” who will choose the party ballot in the primary election for the party with which they identify (lean).

So the excuse that “I have to choose one party’s ballot; I’d rather pick and choose from all of the candidates” does not wash. This represents a tiny number of NOP voters who would actually take the time to vote in a primary election. (Secretary of State Ken “Birther”Bennett estimates that fewer than 10 percent of “independents” will bother to show up for the late-August primary election.  Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne put the “independent” turnout in 2012 at just 7 percent.)

While Jacqueline Salit never directly mentions the “top two primary” in her op-ed, she references in her bio that she is “working with a multi-faceted coalition in Arizona to give voters the opportunity to choose a non-partisan election system in 2016.” She is affiliated with former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, who is featured in a graphic at her web site

So let’s cut to the chase. I posted earlier this year, Real solutions, not top two primary snake oil:

I have posted at length about the political science studies and election results which demonstrate that the the top two primary fails to deliver on the promises made by its proponents. It is snake oil being sold by political flimflam artists.


Arizona voters wisely rejected Prop. 121 by a 2-1 margin in 2012, and will do so again in 2016, if necessary, because they are smarter than the flimflam artists give them credit.

So to former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson and his “braintrust,” here’s the deal: you can forever be remembered as political flimflam artists, or you and your  “braintrust” can abandon this damn fool idea and put your time, effort and money to more productive use and support election reform ballot measures that will, in fact, have a tremendous positive effect and transform politics in Arizona. The choice is yours. This should be a no-brainer.

Earlier this year I posted A challenge to voting rights organizations for a package of ballot measures . . .

These four ballot measures will do more to improve elections and voter turnout in Arizona than any damn fool idea for a “top two primary” and non-partisan elections.

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AZ BlueMeanie
The Blue Meanie is an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, as well as pen filled with all the colors stolen from Pepperland, the Blue Meanie’s mission is to pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media – which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them. Don’t even try to unmask him or he’ll seal you in a music-proof bubble and rendition you to Pepperland for a good face-stomping. Read blog posts by the infamous and prolific AZ Blue Meanie here.


  1. To the author, I ask one simple question: do you really believe that the intention of the Founders was to create a system of democracy which requires you to join a political party in order to be a full participant in that democracy? Is that what George Washington meant when he warned his countrymen in his Farewell Address ““The common mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.” Our Founders new what excessive fealty to party and faction could do to our republic. And their worse fears are coming true today: a government in which 90 percent of the people who elect it believe its representatives to not represent them.

    And yet you blame the independents for lack of civic engagement. Do you think that is really what people are saying when they refuse to join a political party? You state: “This is their own fault, for which they will accept no blame…Their excuse for lack of civic engagement is that they “dislike both political parties.” They fail to understand or to accept that it is their own lack of civic engagement and participation in a political party that produces the candidates that appear on the ballot. When one fails to participate, one leaves it to those who do to make the decisions for them.”

    You clearly are not paying attention to what thousands in Arizona who are changing their registration from a party to independent or undeclared. And you really must never talk to Millennials – the future of our electorate – a majority of which are registering as independents because they abhor what partisanship has done to our country. Read the polls. Talk to young people. This extreme dedication to partisanship that only works for 10% of the public is what you think they want in their democracy? Read the data again.

    I grew up with people who registered for a party, voted, and then expected their elected officials to represent them no matter who won. Politics led to serious government. Today, politics is theater, played for the partisan participants in it, and the very few who want to watch. For the rest of us, the citizens, who believe in elected representatives serving ALL of us, we are left on the street without a ticket to the show.

    THAT’s what the rising tide of independents means. And if we don’t do something to address it, we lose our democracy. That’s how serious this issues is for us members of Paul Johnson’s “brain trust.” We heed the advice of our first President and we remember the wise counsel of Benjamin Franklin, who after the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, responding to the question from someone who asked what they had done, had they created a monarchy or a republic?, said “a republic, if we can keep it.” We are trying to keep our republic. We the people are trying to create a more perfect union. We just don’t want self-interested political parties to get in our way.

    • You miss the point entirely. So-called “independents” refusing to join a political party is not the problem. It is their refusal to engage in the political process at all, even by the simple act of voting. A large percentage of Americans are not even registered to vote, and if we are lucky about half of those Americans who are registered to vote will turn out to vote in a presidential election, well below that number in other elections. That is not because of political parties. That is because of low information voters who are politically disengaged and who wilfully choose not to participate. The B.S. non-partisan top two primary is not going to address this problem. It is not a cure for what ails America.

      • Notice how the promoters of this have little in the way of specifics to explain how it will work in practice.

    • Patrick, if you really want to expand democracy then why do you support something that does the exact opposite?

      It’s basic arithmetic: Primary elections (in whatever form) attract 20-25% of the electorate, tops. In general elections the turnout goes up to 50-60% (midterm) and as high as 75% (Presidential).

      Under your scheme a small sliver of the electorate gets to decide the two and only two candidates (who could be from the same party or similar ideology) that the much larger group gets to select in the election that matters, the general one. Top two primary is a misnomer because the most substantial change it makes is to the general election. Why would anyone want their choices in the general election so severely restricted like that? Especially so-called “independent” voters. They should be the most opposed to something like this.

      Furthermore, if this is such a superb idea then why can’t you recruit an army of enthusiastic centrist volunteers to sell it? Why are you trying to coerce the Democrats into carrying its water? We aren’t causing the problems in this state. Leave us out of it.

  2. Agreed. The Top Two is not what it claims to be. California will tell you that. There are other things AZ could do to make real change, like Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). It would level the playing field for other political parties and eliminate the need/concerns for strategic voting. Maine will hopefully be the first state to have this next year.

  3. Also, can I just point out how gross it is of her to compare “independent” voters too lazy to get off the couch and mail in a ballot to women’s suffrage and the struggle of people of color to attain voting rights? I just can’t with these privileged clueless dilettantes.

  4. This oped is a blatant attempt on Salit’s part to conscript Democrats into her agenda. The dumb top two primary passed in CA because Democrats and labor leaders were duped into supporting it and they’re clearly trying to do the same thing here. Back in 2012 there were Democrats who bought the b.s. and supported this and there may be more of them this time around because liberals tend to be suckers for appeals to reasonableness and kumbaya.

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