'Jungle Primaries' likely headed to fall election

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- It looks like Arizona voters will get a shot at radically changing the way politics is played around here.

A group that wants to abolish traditional partisan primary elections says they've got the support to put the question on the ballot this fall.

Leaders of the Open Elections Open Government filed what they claim is a record number of petition signatures on Thursday afternoon with Arizona Secretary of State's office.

The organization needed a minimum of 259,213 signatures from registered voters to qualify for the November ballot.

But a spokesman for the group says they've collected more than 356,000, a number they believe sets a new benchmark in Arizona.

Officials with the Secretary of State's office were unable to immediately verify the number of signatures was a record. Today was the deadline to file.

State election officials still have to verify the signatures before officials put it on the ballot, but officials with the campaign are confident there won't be any problems.

If passed, the measure would clear the way for so-called "jungle primaries," where the top two vote getters, regardless of party, move on to the general election.

Currently, the state holds partisan primaries where candidates with the most votes in each partisan primary compete against each other in the November general election.

Supporters of non-partisan primaries say it will break partisan gridlock and force candidates to move away from the extreme edges of politics and seek out middle ground. One of the leaders of Open Elections Open Government is former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson.

Opponents of the measure, like the leader of the Arizona Republican Party, Tom Morrissey, say they're going to fight it in the fall.

"It's a masquerade," said Morrissey. "We've got a system that works so why move away from it."

Morrissey added that he will help lead an organized campaign to convince voters that this is a bad idea.

California has already switched to an open primary system and the results so far have been mixed.

Last month the state held its first primary since changing the rules, but turnout remained low and most of the winning candidates were registered Democrats and Republicans.

The new election system did produce a handful of congressional races where candidates from the same party will face each other in the general election.