Civics for Life

The Pros and Cons of Open Primaries and Ranked Choice Voting

July 13, 2023 Civics for Life
Civics for Life
The Pros and Cons of Open Primaries and Ranked Choice Voting
Show Notes Transcript

Do open primaries and ranked-choice voting have the potential to improve American elections, or will they create more problems than they solve? Kevin Meyer, former lieutenant governor of Alaska; Steve Goldstein, executive director of Save Democracy AZ; and Jaime Molera, former Arizona superintendent of public instruction join the O'Connor Institute and Civics for Life to discuss the issue.

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Liam Julian:

Welcome to an O'Connor Institute and Civics for Life issues and answers forum on the pros and cons of open primaries and ranked choice voting. I'm Liam Julian with the O'Connor Institute. In most American elections, voters cast a vote for one person per race, and the candidate who garners the most votes wins. But in a system of ranked choice voting, or RCV, voters are asked to rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins a majority of first place votes, then the candidate who won the fewest number of first place votes is eliminated from the race, and the voters who selected that candidate as their first choice have their second choices redistributed among the remaining candidates. And this process continues until one candidate achieves a majority.

Several countries, including Ireland and Australia, use RCV for nationwide elections. In the United States, RCV is most commonly used in municipalities, although Maine and Alaska have recently begun using it in their state elections. In 2020, Massachusetts voters rejected a referendum that would have instituted RCV in their state, but in November 2022, Nevada voters approved a ballot measure that would establish open primary elections in which the top five candidates advance, and then a ranked choice voting system for general elections, though not the race for US president. A similar ballot measure that would institute open primaries and ranked choice voting may be put before Arizona voters in 2024.

Joining me to discuss the pros and cons of open primaries and ranked choice voting are Kevin Meyer, who was lieutenant governor of Alaska from 2018 to 2022, and Alaska Senate president from 2015 to 2016. Steve Goldstein, who is the executive director of Save Democracy Arizona, a nonprofit organization that supports open primaries and ranked choice voting, and Jaime Molera, who was Arizona's superintendent of public instruction and is now a partner at Molera Alvarez, a government affairs and policy development firm. Welcome Kevin, Steve, and Jaime, and thank you for being with us to discuss this important topic.

Steve Goldstein:

Thank you.

Jaime A. Molera:

Thanks for having us.

Liam Julian:

Yeah. So, Steve, I'd like to start with you. Maybe you could give our audience a little bit more background about open primaries and ranked choice voting, and please absolutely correct any errors that I made in my introduction. And maybe also tell our audience why it is that your organization supports these changes to election procedure.

Steve Goldstein:

Liam, thanks. Let me start off in the broad sense of, I was a journalist for 25 years and got to talk with people from all over the political spectrum, Jaime included, for people to talk about whether the system was working in the broad sense for most Arizonans or whether it was not. And what we found more recently is what has happened is that Arizona has a primary system that does allow those who are party not designated or independent to take part in either the Republican primary or the Democratic primary. And yet many of them don't do that.

And the question came to mind for a lot of people with the Save Democracy organization, which was, well, why is there not an equal opportunity situation there? For if you have a primary that is taxpayer funded, why not allow a third of Arizona's voting electorate at this point, either independent or party not designated, to actually take part and actually make a choice, much as people who are registered Republicans or registered Democrats get to make that choice. So, in a lot of ways, it's an issue of equality, in essence. I wouldn't use the word fairness, just equality, the idea of if you're paying into this system, why not get a chance to actually help choose in August who the final choices will be in November?

So in that sense, the Save Democracy organization is advocating for a change to an open primary system that would give everyone a chance, regardless of their party affiliation, to go forward, have a chance to throw their hat in the ring, and then with the idea of this instant runoff, final five, rank choice voting in the more general sense, then people in November will have a chance to decide it's not just always going to be one Republican or one Democrat, a broader sense of that. But I guess I will stress again, the open primary system, as many of us see it, is about equality, the chance to, if you are paying into the system, you're a registered voter in Arizona, why not get a chance to take part the same way any registered Republican or Democrat would? That's where I'd start.

Liam Julian:

Okay, and what about rank choice voting, Steve? Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Steve Goldstein:

Yes, that would be the next step. So, these go in tandem at this point, that the open primary would, you know, a certain number of candidates who will run, they will be Democrats, there will be Republicans, there will be Independents, and there could be a Green Party, there could be someone else representing other parties. Once that open primary follows through, the top five, or in this case, the final five as we're calling it, candidates who got the most votes in the open primary system will then advance to November's election, where as you described it, the system would be set up where the ballot will look a little bit different, but not dramatically so, you would still have a case of filling in the bubble, you would just be filling in a few more than you would a normal election day. And then once the rounds are done, once you get down to those final two people, then the winner has to emerge with a 50% plus one, it wouldn't be a situation where a race for governor or race for US Senate, for example, you would not end up with a chance of having a split vote, which obviously is quite rare in the general election, but happens quite often in the primary.

Liam Julian:

I see. And one last question for you, Steve, you described, I think, quite, quite wonderfully why your organization supports open primaries, can you tell us a little bit about why you support a ranked choice voting system?

Steve Goldstein:

It's about expanding the options that voters have. I know that there will be some who argue, well, this is somewhat confusing because you're adding, you're having too many people out there, but as we see it, you're actually giving voters more of a choice and at the same time, you're giving candidates more options. I would argue at this point that the way our system is, candidates in both parties, and we've discussed this many times in my days in journalism, which candidates and what way are they going to sort of race to the middle in November, because during the primary system, the Democrats tend to appeal to the furthest left, the Republicans tend to appeal to the furthest right in their primary.

In this case, as we look at it with the possibility of having five finalists, again, with a multitude of parties, it could end up, we have no idea what the five would look like, could be three Democrats, two Republicans, could be independents, Green Party, as I said. This also gives candidates a chance to talk about what they really believe. We know that most candidates, most people running for office, do it because they want to solve problems. Maybe in their community, maybe they run for school board, maybe they run for Congress. They go there because they have big hearts, they want to put their energy into this. The system doesn't reward that. The system rewards people who fall mostly into an ideological spectrum.

We believe that if there were five people and that meant that more candidates are moving forward in the general election, they'll be more willing to discuss issues in a really heartfelt way, find out what voters really think, so open their ears as well. I'm not even talking about just crossing the aisle. I'm not even saying that a Democrat would say, all right, this time I'm going to appeal to Republicans. You also want to appeal to other Democrats, independents as well. It's not just, again, whether it's a Democrat appealing to the most left or Republicans to the most right. We think having more options would actually free candidates as well as voters.

Liam Julian:

Thanks, Steve. Jaime. You do not support the changes that Steve is advocating. Can you tell us why?

Jaime A. Molera:

Well, I guess I'm designated as a con, but I think the more appropriate would be more of the skeptic.

Liam Julian:

Okay. Okay. I like it.

Jaime A. Molera:

A lot of it is because, Liam, that Arizona has seen a number of reform initiatives that have been put in place. It was interesting, years ago I was debating Terry Goddard on the open primary issue. I brought out the ballot arguments for these various reform efforts. Every single one of them started out with, in order to get special interests out of Arizona politics and in order to increase participation of Arizona citizens, then vote for this particular initiative, whether it was allowing independents to vote in primaries, whether it was the independent redistricting commission that was created, and then the most infamous was the Clean Elections Commission that I think was supposed to be this great opportunity to have all kinds of citizens partake in the process where they wouldn't have to raise all kinds of money, but what ended up happening is both sides of the extreme aisles were able to hijack and create an even more extreme state, whether it was legislature or candidates that ran for office.

So, I'm always wary of these silver bullet efforts that are trying to bag what I call the unicorn of moderation in Arizona. We're always trying to say, okay, we don't like the extremes on either side, so we want the centrist moderate candidates that everybody would want to vote for and can appeal to more Arizonans. And I just think that the difficulty of a democracy is getting people to engage, and it's always been that way. I just feel that promoting good citizenship and having folks understand issues, understand the candidates they're going to vote for, is not something you can do with an initiative here and there and say, oh, we've got it now, we've got the perfect structure. It really comes down to getting people to understand why they need to, as individuals, understand what kind of candidates they want to vote for and who they are voting for and why they're supporting them.

Liam Julian:

Mr. Lieutenant Governor, you were in Alaska, you were on the ground as the procedures for primary elections in your state changed and as RCV was introduced and used in elections. If you could, I think it'd be very useful if you could tell our audience about your state's experience with these changes, and kind of also as you're telling that story, maybe react to Steve and Jaime's, what they said as well.

Kevin Meyer:

Okay, great, Liam, and thank you for having me and having this forum. As the Lieutenant Governor in the state of Alaska, I also serve as Secretary of State, so that's why I did oversee elections, and the Rank Choice Voting was a whole new process for us in Division of Elections. Again, this was done by initiative, and the initiative itself had three different parts to it. First of all, it got rid of dark money, in other words, all campaign contributions had to be disclosed, and the second part was open primary, as was mentioned, and then the third part was the general, where we rank the top four candidates.

So initially, I challenged this, saying that it violated the single subject ruling, and we took it all the way up to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court said, no, it all falls under elections, so it's fine. So the initiative went on the ballot, it just barely passed, there really wasn't much opposition fighting it, the parties, of course, Democrat and Republican Party were opposed, but in Alaska anyway, we are predominantly a Republican Party state, so it was basically the Republican Party, the Democrat Party didn't really do much, but there was the non-profit that was behind this initiative, they put a lot of money into it, five or six million dollars, and what's kind of ironic was that it was dark money, I have no idea where those campaign contributions were coming from.

And later, when we all looked at the initiative a little bit closer, they exempted initiatives from the dark money, it only pertained to candidates, so, and like I said, it just barely passed, and 2020 was a tough election year anyway, with COVID, and then we used Dominion machines, or tabulators in Alaska, and Dominion was kind of getting a bad name, you can't trust them, so we actually did a hand count of all the ballots, and it matched what the Dominion tabulators had said. So, it was the law, so then we had to figure out, okay, how are we going to implement this so that people understand it and are educated, and come the 2020-2022 election, they'll feel comfortable in voting. And so, I went to our legislature and received about four million dollars to educate and do a media campaign, and this non-profit called Alaskans for Better Elections, they also put in about four million dollars, because obviously they wanted it to be successful as well, and fortunately they worked with us in Division of Elections, so that the message that we were getting out to folks was consistent.

So, I think when people went to the ballot, or went to the polling places, they understood the process, and it went fairly well. When the non-profit did a poll after the election, and the results was 85%, the people found it easy to use and liked it. Again, that was their poll, not Division of Elections, so take that for what it's worth.

Liam Julian:

I'm sorry, did you do a poll as well, or no?

Kevin Meyer:

No, we did not do a poll.

Liam Julian:

Okay. Okay, well, that's very interesting, and it kind of gets to a question about ranked choice voting, which is, how complicated is it, and what is the effect of the increase in complexity? So, Steve, I'll ask you, well, I'll read you this, Steve, from the New York Times, okay, it's a passage, about New York City. And New York City used ranked choice voting pretty recently in its municipal election for mayor. Quote, “the NAACP and the city council's Black, Latino, and Asian caucus spoke out against ranked choice voting. They were partly worried that it could hurt candidates of color, and that a more complicated ballot could reduce turnout”. And then the New York Times talked to an associate professor of political science, and he said, quote, “the Democratic Party position now is that we need to remove barriers to voting, and I think ranked choice voting is counter to that. My research shows that when you make things more complicated, which this does, there's going to be lower turnout”. 

So, the question there is, does the increase complication lower turnout, or the perception of increased complication lower turnout? And I suppose maybe you could also respond, too, to the NAACP and the Black, Latino, and Asian caucus saying, we're worried about this hurting candidates of color, specifically.

Steve Goldstein:

There's actually, Liam, what's interesting is there's also been discussions about whether candidates of color and voters of color are actually assisted by this, because when you have a final five system, in the case we're talking about here, you actually get more options of candidates who are taking part. You actually may get more candidates of color or more candidates who may appeal to voters of color. So, I think that argument at this point is hard to say, because if you have two candidates or two nominees, perhaps they're speaking to communities of color, perhaps they're not, perhaps they're candidates of color, perhaps they're not. That one, I'm not really sure I can answer, because I think what we're discussing and what we've come up with is the idea that the more people who get a chance to take part, the better that is for the entire community. So, forgive me for not addressing that specifically, but the more opportunities, it seems like that's a better opportunity to speak up to that. 

I think that the complexity of the ballot is quite overrated. It is different, there's no question about that, but the ballot is, yes, a little bit larger in the sense that you're filling out five bubbles as opposed to one, but this instant runoff concept, in essence, once you've made your choices, your choices are made, and you can decide whether you want to go one through five as far as which candidates you want to pick. You still get to choose your favorite, you still get to pick your number one choice, you're not limited from doing that. I almost feel like whenever there's change, one of the things to go to is this is going to be too complicated, are people ready for this, can they handle it? 

One example that's very simple we often talk about, I know it's different than looking at a ballot, but we make choices every single day. If we go to the supermarket, we have to choose among 10 types of coffee, among 10 kinds of cookies or apples or whatever. I don't think it's that complicated in terms of the fact that we as humans are used to making choices every single day. It might look slightly different on the ballot, but I don't think that in and of itself should be some sort of thing that takes it off the table.

 

Liam Julian:

Yeah, and I think actually, if this is right, Lieutenant Governor, Alaska actually used the supermarket analogy a little bit in its outreach, wasn't it sort of you can choose halibut or it was different types of fish, you have lots of fish in Alaska, delicious fish. Lieutenant Governor, did you see a difference in turnout after these changes had been made?

Kevin Meyer:

Well, that's a good question. We used the seafood in our media campaign, because as you said, everybody likes fish and seafood in Alaska. The general election, the turnout was less than normal. But again, a presidential election is our highest turnout, obviously. So, when it's a non-presidential election, the turnout is less. Now, whether that's because the ballot was confusing and scared people off, I don't know.

Liam Julian:

How much less? Are you able to give us a…?

Kevin Meyer:

Yeah, you know, it wasn't substantial, but it was less than the average for a non-presidential election.

Liam Julian:

Okay. That's helpful. Jaime, I think it's, you tell me, but I think it's beyond question that many party primaries in recent years have been won by candidates that you might say are more extreme. And I'd say, I'd ask you, is this a problem? And if so, why is open primaries and ranked choice voting not a viable solution to that problem?

Jaime A. Molera:

Well, again, I go back to the point where, you know, our country has a very important one person, one vote structure that I think has served us very well. And because we don't like certain candidates, whether they're hard left or hard right, remember how that occurs. You have organizations that are very committed to making sure that those candidates win. So, they'll be out in the Arizona heat, pounding signs, walking neighborhoods. Usually with folks that aren't as engaged, they won't do that.

But politics and elections are a lot about blocking and tackling. You have to do those kinds of things in order to be successful. So, this notion of, again, a silver bullet that's going to be the cure-all for that, I just think it's like we've experimented with all these other types of election reforms that haven't created the kind of system that has captured that moderate unicorn, as I talk about. Then what's the next thing that we're going to be looking for? And if I can say, just getting into that supermarket analogy, when I go into, and let's say I want to buy my favorite type of beer, I don't go in there, select it, and then Steve Goldstein can pick the other kind of beer, which, and then Kevin picks another kind of beer, which leads me to have to take the one that they've picked.

I get to choose what I want to select. And so that's where I think, when I want to vote for somebody, I make a conscious decision as to why that person, in my opinion, now, is that the best person? A lot of times, no. But on this ranked choice voting, it forces individuals, and it forces candidates, and it forces campaigns, for that matter, to be aggressive at how they position themselves and how they position them candidates, and then also how they position other candidates.

One of the things that I think we need to look at, and what we've seen in these other types of election reforms, including the clean elections, is the games that get played are games that nobody even knew what would happen when this was put out there. And so, my fear is that we tend to, as a state and country, rather than aim and fire, we fire and then aim. We say, okay, well, this sounds like a very intriguing model, so let's put in ranked choice voting, without really understanding what the ramifications are going to be.

And there's also, remember, different types of ranked choice voting. There's certain areas that are looking at ranked choice voting by assigning a certain numerical weight to, and a lot of, I've read some research analysis that show that that could even be a little bit better than the systems that have been put in place in Alaska or in San Francisco or in New York.So that's where I'm saying, I just wish we would do a little bit more, or a lot more, due diligence, but also remember the fact that as citizens, our responsibility is to make those kinds of choices, and that we have to accept responsibility for ourselves to make sure it's done well, and we continue to be active in our political process.

Steve Goldstein:

Liam, could I jump in on one point on that? The one thing that...

Jaime A. Molera:

Oh, you want to bite my ear, Steve? Is that what you're saying?

Steve Goldstein:

I'm a teetotaler, my friend. I should have told you that years ago. The one point that I think that, actually, I think would be a plus, and honey, I didn't write this down, so I'm not exactly sure how you phrased it, but a difference in terms of how, yes, I understand candidates might feel pressure in some sense, I get that, but I see it in some ways as a real positive pressure that at this point, candidates, in order to be rewarded in both the Democratic and Republican primaries, as I said before, kind of speaking, for the most part, to a pretty narrow group, I think what we're hoping for, and this is, again, if things work out correctly to give people more choices, then maybe the candidates at the same time are saying, okay, I can actually bring up an idea that maybe wouldn't have appealed...I'll bring the thing that comes up a lot these days, what are we going to do about water here in Arizona? Which has been a big discussion for years, and as an amateur Arizona historian, we go back all those decades ago, this great photo of Barry Goldwater and Mo Udall and Paul Fannin and Carl Hayden and both parties, because they realized that these are great leaders in the state's history, but these are people who decide, hey, we need to come together on this.

Surely, I'm not saying that can't happen now, but it's less likely when you get people in the legislature or in the U.S. House who win in August, and so they're appealing to a really small group of people. What the hope is with ranked choice voting is the more candidates out there, the more likely you're going to hear different ideas, and you're going to have candidates who, in order to win, you're going to have to talk about ideas and appeal to a broader base of people. So, I certainly understand, as you said, the silver bullet. No silver bullet exists, I get that, but this is something that we think can improve the conversation for both candidates and voters.

Jaime A. Molera:

But the one thing that is a little bit concerning to me is that for the last two and a half decades that I've been involved in Arizona politics, there's been an effort, and I think a laudatory effort, to get more people engaged and get more people to vote, right? So, we've been very aggressive, and Arizona has very liberal voting laws in that we don't have election day anymore, we have election month, and it's fairly easy for folks to engage in the process. And as we were going through all of those types of reforms, every single one of them, Steve, was always, okay, these are the things that are going to be the key by increasing voter participation, then we're going to end that kind of extremism, and it seems like as we've enacted every single one of those types of reform efforts, we've continued to push it out to the extremes.

And I think there are some fundamental things that we just lost over as a state, particularly with our state legislature. How can we get individuals, like a Steve Goldstein to run, when they're paid $24,000 a year? I mean, that's a fundamental issue, where if you're trying to attract those kinds of quality candidates that might be more centrist or at least have a lot more business acumen, it's tough to do that, it's tough to get individuals to engage. So, there's things that I think we need to look at, and I'm not saying that doing this is irresponsible, please don't get me wrong, I think it's important that we have these kinds of conversations.

My concern is that it seems like we always, like the Lieutenant Governor said, we get organizations that come in, drop a boatload of money, hire consultants, put together polls, and the polls will say exactly what those consultants want it to say. And then Arizona voters are convinced, okay, this is the thing that will cure that extremism. So that's why I consider myself a skeptic in these types of reform efforts.

Steve Goldstein:

Well, then can I follow up just briefly on that? And that's why, I mean, when you say there's no silver bullet, of course, and the points you made about the IRC or clean elections, those did not work out the way a lot of people had hoped. The one thing I'd say, though, is, I don't want to quote Dr. Phil on an O'Connor Institute event, I mean, it's a classic event, but how's the current system working out for us? And by that, I don't mean to blame everything on all these things, but the argument that we're making, I think, with the State of Democracy Agreement going forward is nothing's 100% certain.

But, and in this case, it was the Republican Party, I know it's been the Democratic Party at times as well, but if we look at 2022, some of the nominees that came out of the Republican primary were people who were part of this extremism that we're trying to have less of. And maybe if independents had a chance to have a more equal vote in the open primary, maybe that wouldn't have happened, and maybe the results in November would have been different, and maybe they would have benefited the Republican Party, we just don't know. I think my fear is that the current system is moving in a direction, at least the last few election cycles, that is a little bit more dramatic, both at the House level, legislative level, than they were before.

It's not to say that the system going forward is going to be perfect, but I think keeping the current system as is, I think, is more dangerous now than it would have been 20, 25 years ago when you first got involved in electoral politics.

Liam Julian:

Let me bring in the Lieutenant Governor, because Jaime, I heard you speak several times about unintended consequences of these reform efforts, and Lieutenant Governor, I'd ask you, in Alaska, did you see any unintended consequences, things that happened after you had instituted these changes that you didn't anticipate, or maybe that you did anticipate and were worried about?

 

Kevin Meyer:

No, not really, and it's really hard to draw any conclusions on our election in 2022. For one thing, our House Rep, our U.S. Congressman, Don Young, who died in office, he'd been there almost 50 years, I think it was actually 49, and the election, using the ranked choice voting, elected the first Alaska Native woman to replace him, and she's a Democrat, but I would say she's more of a moderate Democrat. And then, of course, then in our U.S. Senate race, the incumbent, Lisa Murkowski, who is a Republican, but considered a moderate Republican.

Then our Governor, who is considered a conservative Republican, was running for re-election, and he won with 50%, so he wasn't even involved with the ranked choice process. So, it's hard to say, I mean, we had all three covered, a moderate, a Democrat, and a Republican.

Liam Julian:

All right, that's very interesting. Steve, let me ask you about this question. In Arizona, but in the country, at the current moment, there is a lot of, a lot of people have suspicion of the way elections are run, right, for many reasons. Some of them valid, some of them perhaps invalid, doesn't matter, there's a lot of suspicion out there. Regardless of whether or not we believe that ranked choice voting is complex, it certainly does increase the complexity of an election. So, my question to you is, is now the right moment? You know, we're sort of, you know, in Arizona especially, why did the results take so long? And then all these people have different notions of why the results take so long, and it's possible that adding complexity will make the results take longer without other changes that have to happen. You see what I'm saying? Is this the right moment in time to be making wholesale major changes to the way our elections are run?

Steve Goldstein:

As I'm trying to call this so personal, as I just did with my Dr. Phil comparison, Liam, I guess what I would say is that it's almost like there's never, there's never the right time, there's never the perfect time for a lot of these things, and for a lot of people, they look at January 6th and what happened there, which was in essence an event that came about because of what is called election denialism, that people were, that former President Trump didn't believe he lost, and many people who were his supporters went along with that, and that made even more distrust of the system come about. We saw that with some of the Arizonans who lost in 2022, who are still, a couple of them are still out there focused on actually taking office that they didn't win.

So, I would say this, there is, and just to be logical about this, there is no perfect time for anything, but I think at this point in time, we've seen over the last few cycles that to wait for the silver bullet, that as I said does not exist, incremental improvement is better than the status quo at this point based on what we're seeing. So yes, there is absolutely doubt, there's been doubt before though, I mean if we look back, there were a lot of Democrats who didn't believe the Bush-Bohr outcome, and so this is not a new particular thing. It's a little bit new in that the former President was leading the pack, but so I guess I would argue in the sense there, to not do something now because it might make things more complicated or because people have some doubts about it, absolutely. There's election doubting though, and then there's election denying, and people have every right to doubt, people have every right to want to make changes in the system or be afraid of them.

But some of what you're suggesting I think would have to be done at the legislative level.

 

We have many county recorders who are extremely competent, if they come together and decide there are certain ways of tweaking the system in that sense, to make sure that voters are not scared of the changes to come, I think that level is a little bit different to make sure they trust that votes are being counted accurately, efficiently. Those are some other things I think go into it a little bit different than the ballot measure we're talking about.

Kevin Meyer:

You know, and Liam, if I may, I might add too that the Republican Party is trying to repeal the ranked choice voting in Alaska. They know that the legislature isn't going to do it. I mean, everybody in the legislature got elected using ranked choice voting, so of course they like it. So, they're going through the initiative process right now, collecting the signatures to get it on the ballot. So, we'll see if they're successful or not, but there is a movement to repeal it. It is interesting that whether it is to bring it about or repeal it, that this has to be done through direct ballot measures because of course the people in the legislature at the time, my suspicion is they like the system that got them to the legislature at the time and they're not going to be likely to change it.

Liam Julian:

And so, when, but there is a little bit of a question, I suppose, Steve, about, as Jaime had mentioned, and the Lieutenant Governor, about outside organizations coming in with a lot of money to put these measures on a ballot. Elected representatives in the legislature aren't sponsoring these. But then as I just said, there's the opposite argument, which is why would the legislature change the system that got them there? Do you have any thoughts on that?

I mean, you're working for one of these organizations. 

Steve Goldstein:

So, yes, at this point, and we know with a huge campaign like this, there's going to be a lot of opposition to it. So, money will come from other sources. I can tell you at this point, the state democracy effort is a grassroots group of Arizonans. I mean, these are, everyone on our board is an Arizonan who lives here all the time. But yes, I certainly get what Jaime is saying. There is, whenever there is a change like this, we've seen it in other states, obviously, Liam, in your intro, you mentioned Nevada.

There's definitely interest in this all across, there are national groups that are interested in doing things related to that on a national level, working with individual states, for sure. That is always something. But I can assure you that with the state democracy, there's not going to be a refusal of help from outside the state. But this, in order, Arizona is, I believe I was four years old, Arizona is a very unique state. We saw how our senators got elected, our Democratic senators, both of them sort of ran like they were independents. This is a very different kind of state. So, I would say that often if things are driven by out-of-state interests, we go back, Jaime, I remember the Super Bowl all those years ago, the NFL saying you have to go Martin Luther King Day. A lot of people voted against it because they didn't want the NFL telling them what to do. So, I think in that sense, Liam, that having too much input from outside the state, it wouldn't work. But this effort wouldn't be going forward if it was just outside interest.

Jaime A. Molera:

Yeah. And that's a good point I think Steve makes, you know, Arizonans are independent. And one of the things I'm heartened by, being in Arizona, lifelong Arizona, is that I think we get things right eventually. Because if you look at what happened to those extreme candidates in this election cycle, they didn't win. So, they can deny it all they want, but they're doing it from outside the governor's office, from outside the Secretary of State's office, from outside the Attorney General's office. And then when we've gone through this before, when during that period, during the Super Bowl, when we had Evan Mecham become governor of Arizona, I remember at that time, there was a lot of calls for reform because he won on a plurality vote.

And there was a lot of, I remember there was a lot of effort to say, well, we should have it, change it to, you have to get, you have to have 50 plus one. But eventually Arizonans got it right. He lost as governor. We had a series of very strong, stable governments that were put in, but to say that nothing needs to happen, I don't argue, advocate that at all. As I mentioned, I think the pay of legislators needs to be addressed. That's a major reason of not being able to get quality candidates. Right now, the voter files are controlled by the parties. They're the only ones that you have to go through the party in order to get access to voter files.

I mean, there are a lot of substantive things that can happen that would allow organizations, like say, Democracy, like other groups that want to be engaged and get more citizens, not just involved, but also knowledgeable on the kinds of folks that they need to vote for. But again, that's the kind of blocking and tackling that needs to occur. That's not really sexy. It's much easier to get five to 10 million bucks, hire some slick consultants with some slick TV ads, and change people's minds in order to put in place things like clean elections that turned out to be a disaster because you just increased the polarization of the Arizona legislature.

Liam Julian:

Well, Jaime, let me push a little bit on that and ask you a really specific question. You're a Republican, and Mitch McConnell had bemoaned in this last cycle the lack of quality Republican candidates that were in a lot of elections. I want to ask you specifically, would an open primary potentially go a long way to improving the quality of Republican candidates, of all candidates? And what are your thoughts on that? I mean, a very specific question. I mean, if we're looking for more quality candidates, could an open primary help get us there?

Jaime A. Molera:

Possibly. Again, I'm of the opinion that we aim and then fire on how we proceed with that. I think there's a lot of merit into looking what the city of Phoenix has. The city of Phoenix had a very robust election that recently occurred where you had two council seats that really changed the dynamics of the Phoenix City Council. And basically, that is a top two structure where you had a number of candidates in each district and then the top two ended up having to do a runoff where you had to have 50 plus one in order to become the next council person. So, I think there's some merit in looking into that and how that is done, and that could be possibly emulated on a statewide basis or in a legislative basis.

Liam Julian:

Okay. Steve, do you have thoughts on that?

Steve Goldstein:

Liam, I would say, I mean, I agree with what Jaime said. Certainly, legislative pay you're going to get in a situation like that, I understand. I would, you know, we always want to look forward and I know that's part of what we need to do. We're looking forward to 2024. When I bring up 2022, I mean, there were a couple of situations where it wasn't even the quality of the candidates and I would throw out, for example, in our attorney general race on the Republican side, there was a former Arizona Supreme Court justice who resigned his position on the Supreme Court and ran for office. And in many cases would have been considered a very strong candidate, you know, if we want to use the term moderate and moderate Republican, and the way that the race went forward because of the way the primary system is currently set up, and this is where I go into your open primary question.

This was a candidate, in no way am I saying he's not a hardcore Republican, I don't know every one of his views, but one of the things that came out in one of the ads he put out was this very firm border policy, very firm immigration policy, which he, I've no doubt is, but he sort of got in the same lane of many of the other Republican candidates who were talking about former President Trump and what a great job he had done. And it's almost like I'm arguing that an open primary will actually open up more lanes. We saw that in the U.S. Senate race, I think, as well on the Republican side, where Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who was a conservative, but was considered to be a pragmatic conservative, I guess. I don't say that pejoratively, I say that as somewhat of a problem solver, when he ran for Senate, they were all sort of battling for that same lane.

My argument is with an open primary, you'll get different ideas, you'll get different people saying, you know what, there are other, they're independents. There are more moderate Republicans who may want to vote for me, as opposed to the people who are, and this would apply to Democrats as well, just voting in the primary. So again, not a silver bullet, but it's talking about improving the current system, I think there's an argument for that, yes.

Liam Julian:

Yeah, interesting. It's interesting, you know, Lieutenant Governor, you talked about, you know, in Alaska, you know, ranked choice voting had resulted in a Democrat winning that election. I believe this is the first Democrat to win in something like 50 years in Alaska.

Kevin Meyer:

Yes, that's correct.

Liam Julian:

And so, the Republican Party in Alaska, you had said, is now, wants to repeal ranked choice voting. I just, but I wanted to bring up another example of a different state where Republicans had great success with ranked choice voting, that's Virginia. The Republican Party there, it seems to me, is in love with ranked choice voting now, because ranked choice voting in their sort of primary convention is what gave them the slate that was led by Glenn Youngkin, and they swept the elections. And so, I believe now that the Republican Party in Virginia are big fans. So, it's just interesting to see, state by state, that this doesn't necessarily break down, always in the same way, party lines.

Kevin Meyer:

Yeah, no, I, and again, we haven't, we've only done it once in Alaska. So, it's hard for me to draw any conclusions. But I don't, I don't know if Virginia is a state, most states don't even allow initiatives. Well, it's about half and half. I think it's 26 don't allow initiatives and 24 do, and I think it's mostly the Western states. But I, you know, I personally, having been a legislator for many years, 18 years, both in the Senate and the House, I would prefer changes like, like this to go through the committee process.

So, you can work out the pros and cons and, and come up with a good policy decision. But there are times too, where, you know, big change just isn't going to happen in the legislature because they want to get reelected and, and they're worried about it. You know, for example, marijuana was never going to pass the legislature in Alaska. So finally, they went to the, to the people and it passed pretty easily. I think the same here in Arizona, and all those things that we heard in the legislature that were going to happen, just didn't happen. In fact, we're now collecting pretty good revenue off of it. So, and then also, but a cruise ship tax was implemented by initiative because again, the legislature wasn't going to do it. And that passed pretty easily, but, but then the cruise ship started or stopped coming to Alaska So, you know, that's, that's the problem with initiatives is there is no concern about who's going to pay for how it's going to get paid. That's up to the legislature and the governor to figure out. And then the ramifications of the policy decision. So, you know, I'm not sure which is better to go through the legislature or the initiative process, but the argument is that, you know, let the people vote.

Jaime A. Molera:

Just on that point, I think the Lieutenant Governor brings up a very strong point, especially for Arizona, under Arizona's initiative process, and we know this, once you pass an initiative, you can't change it. I mean, it's almost impossible to change in our state without doing another ballot initiative. So, the ability to structure something that ultimately could work and possibly put in place that can be tweaked and that could be modified and that could be eventually have something that could be effective, just can't do that in our state. So, it just, it just really concerns me that you put in a system that I believe is confusing, but without any ability to modify that, we're going to be stuck with it for a very long time.

Liam Julian:

Steve, would you like to respond to that?

Steve Goldstein:

To respond to both Lieutenant Governor and Jaime, I think the Arizona, obviously the initiative process is part of our state constitution. It's been sort of more than 100 years we've had this. I think there are a lot of cases where to use just the, the cliche of kicking the can down the road. A lot of these ballot measures are brought about because the legislature isn't moving forward in any way. I mean, there's a, there's a center for the future of Arizona here in the state that has done some Gallup polling and some other polling, very interesting stuff to show a real disconnect between the legislature and what the general public wants to see as far as solutions are.

And if we look at the narrow margins right now in the legislature, look at the house, it's 31 to 29 in favor of Republicans. There are a lot of Republicans in leadership, Liam, who have decided because there's a democratic governor in Katie Hobbs, they just don't want to work with her. And a couple of weeks into the session, they were already saying, well, we might as well just wait until July and declare a budget impasse. So, you're just going to not do anything for five or six months. So, I understand what Jaime is saying with the Voter Protection Act. Absolutely. If something goes into effect, it's, it's difficult to have it done.

We could also say though, if lawmakers actually were willing to discuss ideas in the primary, if they had more competition in the primary and then the general election, maybe they would go to the legislature thinking more about solving things as opposed to setting up blockades and almost forcing ballot measures, almost forcing these grassroots measures to go forward. Certainly, doesn't apply in every legislative session, but in this current one, it certainly seems to.

Liam Julian:

Yeah. Yeah. We're almost out of time. This has been a great discussion and I know our audience is going to really appreciate the wisdom that you all are bringing here and helping us understand these issues, open primaries and ranked choice voting. Could we close by maybe everyone saying a sort of a, you know, just a quick summation of their thoughts on the, on the issue and then we'll, we'll wrap up. Does that sound good? And maybe we'll start, we'll just start because you're in the top of my screen, Steve, we'll start with you and we'll go down.

Steve Goldstein:

It's like the Brady Bunch. Is that how it works? Well, just to, just to stress again, and I'm, I think that the system that we have now has served us very well for a very long time. I mean, the democratic party, Republican party, they're really important to the structure of how governance has taken place. So, in no way am I saying let's devalue what's going on with the parties. But the idea that we have primary system that is paid for by all the taxpayers that leaves out about a third of our electorate here in Arizona, the system just isn't equal.

And so, we're ending up in a lot of cases with voters who don't have great choices and candidates who, in order to win these primaries on both the right and the left, they've decided they're speaking to a very narrow group. And so, we have really complicated things to solve in Arizona, these very important problems. Again, water's the obvious one to keep bringing up, but as our population grows, that's going to be even more vital. The system in and of itself right now is just not serving us as well as it could. So, I'm, so that's why open primary, final five, ranked choice voting, it's going to improve what we have now. I will also, you know, defer to my friend Jaime and say, yes, it's not a silver bullet. It won't solve everything, but the status quo is, we're in danger of that actually getting worse if we don't try something. 

Liam Julian:

And I know I said that we would just have everybody go down and, but I, can I ask a quick clarifying question, Stephen, I should have done this earlier. But in Arizona, when you talk about independents not being able to vote in primaries, they can however. They can. So can you clarify, yeah, that's important.

Steve Goldstein:

Absolutely. That's why I'm using the word open primary because we have sort of a semi-open primary. Yes, independents are absolutely allowed to choose one ballot or the other, but that gets into a topic that we didn't discuss, which is the spoiler aspect. I certainly know people who are registered independent, they decide, okay, there's someone in either the Republican or Democratic party I don't want to win, even more so they're voting against someone as opposed to voting for someone. So, what, yes, the open primary system would make it so every person who was a registered voter in Arizona could take part. They wouldn't have to say, I'm just going to pick a Republican or pick a Democrat or for or against. So yes, you're right. They can select a ballot, but it's not broadly open to everyone in the same sense.

Liam Julian:

Right. Good. Okay. Great. I'm glad we clarified that. Great.T hank you. And Kevin, you're the next one down on my screen. So, Lieutenant Governor, if you could.

Kevin Meyer:

Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. So, the process went really well in Alaska. And again, a lot of money was spent to educate people and inform people so they knew what to expect. And in Alaska, too, we have to do the ballots or we do the ballots in 10 different Alaska native languages. And so that was the only concern was just the cost involved with implementing this new initiative. But the process itself went well. And as long as your candidate won, you think it's great. So, if your candidate lost, then it's a terrible system. But I think what concerns me is that when you do the rank choice and after round one, if nobody gets 50% and you have to go to round two, you need to make sure that that's done transparent as possible. And the concern a lot of people have is that algorithm within the Dominion machine is rigged. Well, you're totally reliant on that algorithm to do the reallocation of the votes.

And unfortunately, rank choice voting is so complicated that there is no way if we wanted to do a hand count that we could get that done before we had to certify the election and even swear swearing in of the of the candidates. So, I mean, we can we can do a hand count, but it would be it would take several months before we would know for sure. And then you guys are attorneys. I don't know what happens once you someone is sworn in an office, if you if you find out the process wasn't right. Hopefully, that'll never happen in Alaska. But that that's a concern I have with the process.

Liam Julian:

Yep. Thank you, Lieutenant Governor. And just, again, a clarifying that that did happen, I believe, in California, in in Oakland, an Oakland school board race. Two months later, they found out that actually the rank choice voting that the algorithm had made a mistake and that the wrong candidate won. And I'm not entirely sure how they resolved it. But it happened two months after the fact, precisely because it is very complicated, as you point out. So that can happen. The proponents of rank choice voting, however, were the ones who discovered it. And they were very sort of forthcoming with it and also made the point that this was a computer error and not an error in rank choice voting. The other side made the point that if rank choice voting were less complicated, we would have discovered the computer error much sooner than two months down the road. So good point, Lieutenant Governor. Thank you. And OK, Jaime, maybe you can you can bring us home.

Jaime A. Molera:

Well, I just want to correct the lieutenant governor. I'm a man of the people, not an attorney. OK, so but there's a couple of things that were said just in your summations that just, I think, add to what I've been trying to argue and why I'm skeptic. It is a confusing process. And I think voters I can just see my eighty-five-year-old mother trying to figure out how she's going to vote for those six or seven candidates in a rank choice structure. So that's one. The other is, at some point, as Stevie had mentioned, with the independents being able to vote in our primary structure, again, go look back at some of those ballot arguments when that was being put in place, that was going to be the cure all.

Having independent vote was going to be the solution because it was going to make our primary system open and you're going to have those independent so-called independent voters, which a lot of people think are centrists. But if you look at independents, they really do fall either as a progressive or conservative. But they got their chance to vote in our primary systems and it got game. And you talked about the spoiler aspect where you have some consultants that will figure out how to do this. I don't do campaigns, but I know a lot of these little devils, they will figure it out and they will figure out how to make a system that really doesn't reflect what I believe the public ultimately wants to do and what the public needs to do.

 

And again, this is not easy, but it's the old state school superintendent in me. People have to take the responsibility to learn, to educate themselves, to educate their communities and be aggressive in trying to articulate why either the issues or the candidates that they are promoting and backing are going to be the ones that are going to really deal with the issues. And so, it's not an easy process and democracy never has been. And if you look at our history of our country, it's always been fraught with these kinds of very polarizing sides that we have to go through. But at the end of the day, I think as our country continues to evolve and we continue to get folks engaged in the process, I do think things like ground truth voting will be obsolete.

Liam Julian:

Well, thank you for a wonderful discussion, Kevin Meyers, Steve Goldstein, Jaime Molera. Thank you for joining us. I know our audience is going to benefit greatly from your wisdom. So, thanks.

Steve Goldstein:

Thanks.

Jaime A. Molera:

Thank you. Enjoyed it.

Kevin Meyer:

Thank you.