Arizona's Presidential Preference Election Still Could Go Bye-Bye in 2020

Arizona Secretary of state Michele Reagan, speaking on behalf of HB 2567 earlier this year.
Arizona Secretary of state Michele Reagan, speaking on behalf of HB 2567 earlier this year.
Arizona Legislature

Standing in line for hours to cast a ballot. Cries of "voter suppression." The finger-pointing, the recriminations, the heads hanging in shame. 

These all could be things of the past, in relation to local voter angst, if a Republican effort to repeal Arizona's Presidential Preference Election, now held up in the state Senate, becomes law.

At least part of the GOP leadership that backed the move remains committed to it in the wake of this year's disastrous March PPE, where fewer polling places and general confusion over eligibility led to some folks' standing in line for as long as five hours at polling places.

One of those in queue, reportedly, was Republican state Senator Kimberly Yee, who told one local outlet she had to stand in line more than five hours to cast her ballot

Yee is a co-sponsor of a Senate version of a bill to repeal a state statute requiring the PPE, beginning in 2020. Senate Bill 1486 also would appropriate more than $6 million to help fund the 2016 PPE.

The bill, whose primary backer in Arizona's upper chamber is state Senate President Andy Biggs, would throw the issue of selecting delegates to the national convention every four years to the parties, which could pay for their own PPEs, hold caucuses, or choose some other system. 

The GOP solution to long PPE lines? Kill the PPE.EXPAND
The GOP solution to long PPE lines? Kill the PPE.
Miriam Wasser

Yet, given that elections are expensive, and that a party's resources are best spent on winning such contests, outside sources of funding would be necessary to bankroll a PPE, leaving open the question of which entities would be allowed to contribute to a party-run contest.

That's assuming either political party decided to have one in 2020,

SB 1486 received a "do pass" recommendation after a brief discussion on the Senate floor in late February, and awaits a final vote. 

A sister piece of legislation, House Bill 2567, backed by state House Speaker David Gowan, was approved by the House after its third read on February 10, by a vote of 37 to 22.

It then was transmitted to the Senate, where it remains in limbo. 

Most Democrats in the House opposed HB 2567 and put up a fight, first to amend the bill so as to allow independents to participate in the PPE, then to sever the two issues of compensating the counties for the PPE in 2016 and ending the state-funding altogether in 2020.

Before the debacle of the March preference election in Arizona and the voter anger aimed at elected officials over the mess, Republicans widely endorsed scrapping the PPE.

Speaking during a February 3, House Appropriations Committee hearing, Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan supported the legislation, making a point common to those for and against the bill.

That is, registered Independents, despite being a plurality of the Arizona electorate, cannot participate in the PPE, which both Democrats and Republicans use to determine whom its delegates will support at a national convention. 

"If our PPE is truly a party function," said Reagan, "this particular election should really be returned to the parties."

Yet in the aftermath of the March PPE madness, Reagan still supports doing away with the PPE. This, according to recent comments in conservative writer Barbara Espinosa's blog AmericanFreedombyBarbara.com, where Reagan doubled down on the bill.

"If one-third of our voters are independents, and cannot participate," Reagan wrote to Espinosa in an e-mail. "These PPE's are party functions and the taxpayers should not be on the hook. This is the way it was [in Arizona] prior to 1992."

Speaker Gowan, too, is sticking by the bill he sponsored, according to his spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham. 

"It is the Speaker’s bill, so yes he [still] supports it," Grisham explained to New Times via e-mail.. "When you consider how much the election cost ($9.3 million this year and over $10 million in 4 years), it is more about saving the taxpayers money."

Asked why the bill hadn't moved since its passage in the House in early February, Grisham replied that the bill "is likely not moving in the Senate because bills aren’t moving at all until we get through the budget."

A spokesman for Senate Republicans did not immediately respond to an inquiry from New Times about the bill being idle. 

However, in early April, Governor Doug Ducey did advise legislators not to send more bills to his desk until a state budget had been passed. 

Between the passage of HB 2567 on February 10 and reports regarding Ducey's fiat to the Legislature, there has been more than a month...including the March PPE fiasco.

Republican legislators contacted for this story would not comment on the record. Privately, some Rs now seem skittish about the legislation and wonder if another reason for the holdup could be that GOP leadership is having second thoughts about the bill.

To be fair, Democrats also have expressed doubts about paying for the PPE with taxpayer funds, since Independents are the largest voting bloc in Arizona and cannot participate according to current state law.

Yet, many of these same Dems seem open to allowing Indies to participate in a state-funded PPE, an idea Republicans generally loathe.

Since the GOP controls the state Legislature, and since this latest effort at eradicating the PPE has been pushed by the majority's leadership, Republicans likely will bear the brunt of any public ire, should the legislation pass the Senate and head for Ducey's desk.

Update 8:55 a.m.: As noted by my colleague Jim Small at the Arizona Capitol Times, Ducey signaled (after the March PPE, natch) that he's for allowing indies to participate in the PPE, which could mean the bill is kaput in its current form, even if Gowan and Reagan think otherwise. 


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