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Bipartisan Arizona group pushes for open primaries on 2024 ballot 

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Alex Gonzalez

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(Arizona News Connection) This week, a bipartisan group in Arizona officially launched its campaign to do away with the state's current system of primary elections - which are only open to people in the two major political parties. 

The goal is to get a measure on the 2024 ballot to make the state's future primary elections open to all candidates and all voters, regardless of their party affiliation. But first, it needs more than 389,000 signatures by July of next year. 

Chuck Coughlin - treasurer for Make Elections Fair AZ - called this week's kickoff "an emotional launching point," for what he describes as their effort to "create fair elections in Arizona." 

"Our election process has been hijacked by two extreme parties," said Coughlin. "The two parties have become much more extreme over time in their views of how elections are run, because it attracts money and influence. A majority of people have chosen to disassociate themselves from those two parties."

He said Independent and unaffiliated voters now comprise the largest registered voter bloc in Arizona, at 35 percent of the electorate. 

Coughlin said changing the system would, in his words, "reinvigorate competition, so ideas and change can fuel American democracy again."

Former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson is now on the Make Elections Fair AZ executive committee. 

He said the current, partisan primary system can be "easily manipulated," and lead to a disproportionate advantage for groups with extreme viewpoints. 

Johnson also said he sees the current system as discriminatory toward Independent and unaffiliated candidates.

"It actually discriminates directly against voters," said Johnson. "It requires them to file a special card to be able to vote in one of the two primaries, which Democratic and Republican voters don't have to do. And then, in presidential primaries, they are outright excluded - even though their taxpayers' dollars are utilized to be able to subsidize it."

Johnson is referring to the card people can fill out stating "no party preference" that allows them to vote in an Arizona primary. 

Supporters of closed primaries say they're an important part of keeping political parties healthy and relevant.