Judge bars ballot spot for Arizona primary measure

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX (AP) -- An initiative measure to transform Arizona's primary election system is unconstitutionally broad and cannot appear on the November ballot, a judge said Monday in a ruling that will be appealed.

Judge Mark Brain of Maricopa County Superior Court said the so-called "open elections/open government act" violates the Arizona Constitution by including more than one proposed constitutional amendment in the same ballot measure.

The measure would allow voters to vote for any primary election candidate. The top two finishers would advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation. Currently, voters can voter in only one party's primary and each party's nominee advances.

Supporters contend the changes would provide voters with a louder voice in the political process and reduce the impact of ideological extremes, while opponents argue it would weaken political parties and deprive voters of meaningful choices.

Similar systems are in use in California, Louisiana and Washington state.

Brain said most of the Arizona proposal's many provisions fit together and don't violate the single-subject rule. But he said that's not so with one provision to prohibit on using public money for political parties' activities.

"There is no good reason that a vote for or against that topic should be bundled with a vote on an open primary," he said.

Initiative supporters said the provision was narrow and only related to election of party officials, but Brain said it was written more broadly to prohibit "state assistance in any form or forum and at any time."

The supporters said they will appeal Brain's ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court, which is already considering an appeal of another judge's ruling that an initiative for a sales tax increase can go on the ballot.

Brain ruled on a challenge filed July 16 on behalf of plaintiffs that included a Republican former state official, the League of Women Voters of Arizona and a Libertarian Party activist.

Meanwhile, prominent Republicans began organizing a related campaign to oppose the measure if it reaches the ballot. Leaders of that effort include Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and former U.S. Rep. John Shadegg.

Supporters filed petitions for the initiative on July 5. Elections officials are checking whether supporter enough valid voter signatures.

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