Arizona’s more than 500,000 independent voters will be free to cast ballots in September’s Republican and Democratic statewide primaries.
In a unanimous ruling Monday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out part of a year-old ruling by a federal court judge in Tucson that voided the state’s open primary law. The judges, in an unsigned opinion, said the trial judge should have limited his decision solely to objections to the open primary brought by the Libertarian Party.
But the appeals court said it could not decide at this point whether the Libertarians also must be forced to let independent voters help choose the candidates for the party. Instead, the judges sent the case back for another hearing.
Political and state election officials said Monday they needed more time to examine the ruling. But, Secretary of State Jan Brewer said her immediate concern was whether Arizona counties will be forced to print extra sets of ballots because of different treatment for Republicans and Democrats versus Libertarians and independents.
"We have neither the time or the money (to address this)," Brewer said. "We have to get moving on this right away."
Arizona voters approved a 1998 initiative to allow voters registered as independents or with minor parties to participate in major party primaries. Proponents said many legislative and congressional districts are dominated by a single party, meaning the person who wins the primary effectively is elected in September. They said the closed primaries result in general election candidates who appeal to the polar extremes of their parties.
The Libertarian Party argues the initiative opened the door for critics registered as independents to "take over" their relatively small organization by voting in greater numbers than party members. Monday’s ruling makes it clear that independents shouldn’t vote for Libertarian precinct committee members, said state party chairman Jason Auvenshine of Tucson.
Now, the Libertarian Party will return to U.S. District Court to argue again that independents shouldn’t vo te in primaries for candidates.
"We’re trying to stop the rape of state taxpayers and get our process back into control of our party," Auvenshine said. "This is one step in that process."
Maricopa County elections director Karen Osborne said a change in state law earlier this year will reduce the likely cost to taxpayers for Monday’s ruling. Counties now are allowed to cancel uncontested precinct committee elections, and just declare those who filed as winners.
Out of 1,058 precincts in Maricopa County for the three largest parties in 2000, only seven precinct elections had multiple challengers and none involved Libertarians, Osborne said.
The ruling won’t affect the Feb. 3 presidential primary election, in which only registered Democrats can vote for candidates in their primary.