Arizona’s presidential preference election will feature a selection of 48 candidates — two dozen apiece on the Democratic and Republican ballots. And no, you haven’t heard of most of them.
Most of the presidential candidates are political pranksters who became bona fide candidates simply by completing a twopage form that didn’t even inquire whether the candidates are registered voters. One lives in Italy.
On Tuesday, better-known and lesser-known candidates alike were assigned spots on the politically appropriate ballot, the order of appearance based not alphabetically but by numbers drawn randomly by state officials.
Arizona’s lax regulations attracted a broad array of White House hopefuls for the Feb. 5 election. Consider this: The Democratic ballot will feature someone named Sandy Whitehouse.
As it turned out, Whitehouse and Sen. John McCain are just two of 18 Arizona residents running for president — or at least it will appear that way on the ballots.
Arizona voters will have to comb their ballots to find the national candidates. For every household name like Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., there will be three mystery names like Michael Burzynski, Rhett R. Smith or Sean “CF” Murphy.
“There is a possibility that it’s going to confuse people,” said Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer. “They are going to look and they’re probably going to say, ‘What am I voting for here?’ ”
Two of the presidential candidates actually showed up at the state Capitol on Tuesday for the drawing, conducted by Brewer.
Republican candidate Michael P. Shaw of Glendale, who proclaimed he was running to represent “the hood” and “the God of Israel,” drew the sixth spot on the GOP ballot.
Fellow Republican Charles Skelley of Tucson, who said he’s seeking the nation’s top office to get attention for his economic ideas, drew the seventh spot.
A campaign organizer for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., drew No. 5, while campaign aides for Republicans Mitt Romney, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Rudy Giuliani drew 3, 8 and 24, respectively.
Brewer drew the positions for the remaining candidates.
Wearing sunglasses and a “Geek Squad” T-shirt, Shaw objected to a reporter’s question posed to Brewer about whether the long-shot candidates were taking advantage of the system.
“I have a question: How much experience do you think the Congress and President Bush have? They have a lot of experience, and they’ve ran the country into the ground,” he said, his voice rising.
“So this guy asking the question, it was really directed toward me. Why am I here? I’m here to represent the ’hood, because nobody else is representing the ’hood. And Bush and everyone else who’s got all the experience — all the experience — have run the country into the ground! It’s like the (Exxon) Valdez oil spill. And that’s what the country’s turning into,” he said.
“That’s why I’m here, sir, because I can do a better job than what’s being done right now, sir!” Shaw said.
His challenge to win the presidency immediately became more difficult when he concluded his speech and sharply pushed his chair away from a table in a crowded conference room, striking the knees of a man sitting behind him.
“Hey, man, you just lost my vote!” the other man said.
“I didn’t know I had votes,” Shaw responded. “I didn’t come here for votes. I came here represent the ’hood.” He apologized to the man and left.
Brewer, the state’s top election official, said she favors changing state law to raise the requirements for candidates to appear on Arizona’s ballots.
“Certainly being registered to vote might be a start,” she said. “In our presidential preference elections, you do not have to be registered; you have to be qualified to be registered. So it would be nice, I think, that if you’re going to participate in the political process, if you’re going to play in that arena, that at least you can vote for yourself.”
The long list of candidates just may benefit national front-runners, said political analyst Bruce Merrill, a journalism professor at Arizona State University. Voters strongly supporting particular national candidates will search the ballots for their favorites’ names, no matter how many names appear on the ballot, he said.
However, not all voters are that committed.
“When there’s that many people, if you really don’t have a strong preference, very few people are going to sit there and go through all 24 names,” Merrill said. “The more names, the more of a problem is. The lesser-known candidates really get hurt a bit.”
Sen. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa, Romney’s state campaign chairman, said he was pleased he drew the third spot for Romney. “A top-tier candidate and a top-tier position,” he said.
A candidate’s position on a ballot is important, because voters typically scan ballots from the top looking for familiar names, Gray said. “As you go down this list, the first familiar name you see is Mitt Romney’s,” he said.
Despite Romney’s good fortune, it might be time for state lawmakers to reconsider the process that led to four dozen people becoming official presidential candidates in Arizona, he said.
“There is some question as to whether or not some of these are real candidates, with regard to some of these unknowns. But that’s the system we have in place,” he said. “I guess it gives somebody their 15 minutes of fame.”
Skelley, a retired engineer, said he plans to use his candidacy to discuss his economic policies, which he said would solve a lot of the country’s major problems including Social Security.
“I’ve been attempting to write a book on economics for 20 years or so. It’s an on-andoff thing. I usually get part way through it and realize I need to do some re-writing of it. This time, the opportunity arose for me to make a point. I don’t have to have a 300-page book,” Skelley said.
Instead, he plans to discuss it while campaigning for the presidency.
Two dozen names will appear on both the Democratic and Republican ballots for Arizona’s presidential preference election on Feb. 5. Their listing order was determined by lot Tuesday.
Peter “Simon” Bollander
Dennis J. Kucinich
Evelyn L. Vitullo
Christopher J. Dodd
James Creighton Mitchell Jr.
Michael P. Shaw
John Michael Fitzpatrick
John R. McGrath
Sean “CF” Murphy
Rhett R. Smith