Arizona Top-Two Primary Initiative, Proposition 121 (2012)

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Proposition 121
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Referred by:Arizona Open Government Coalition
Topic:Administration of government
Status:Defeated Defeatedd
The Arizona Top-Two Primary Initiative was on the November 6, 2012 general election ballot in the state of Arizona as an initiated constitutional amendment where it was defeated.

The measure implemented a top-two style open primary system. In a top-two open primary, candidates for a government position run on the same primary ballot regardless of party affiliation. All registered voters are then able to cast their vote for the candidate of their choice. The two candidates with the most votes are then placed on the November general election ballot, regardless of party affiliation. The proposal was introduced by former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson.[1][2]

The measure was filed with the Arizona Secretary of State on September 27, 2011.[3]

Election results

See also: 2012 ballot measure election results

The following are unofficial election results:

Arizona Proposition 121
Defeatedd No93277467.2%
Yes 455864 32.8%

Precinct totals are not final and have not yet been reported

Results via the Arizona Republic.

Text of the measure

Short title

The short title of the measure read as follows:[4]

This measure will allow all Arizonans, regardless of party affiliation, to vote in a single open primary for the candidates of their choice. The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary will compete in the general election. There will be a level playing field for all voters and candidates, and the current system of taxpayer-funded partisan primaries will be abolished. This reform will promote open government and encourage the election of candidates who will work together for the good of the state.[5]




  • Former Mayor Paul Johnson stated: "The greatest incentive politicians have is to be elected. Too many politicians seeking to win their partisan primary simply do so by demonizing the other party. But under Prop. 121, politicians would have to face all voters. This creates an incentive to reach out to all voters, and work together regardless of party once they are elected."[8]
  • According to Johnson the initiative “is about trying to change the outcomes so that we end up with a more reasoned debate and more people are included in the process."[9]
  • According to the "State of Arizona Registration Report", about a third of state residents are not registered with either the Democratic or Republican party. There are now more independents in the state than Democrats.[10]
  • Thomas Franz, president and CEO of Greater Phoenix Leadership stated: "We believe in representative democracy, we believe that every voice is important to be heard"[11]
  • In column by Mark B. Evans, Editor of ..."They should vote for it because it strips the political parties of their power and puts it back in the hands of the voters."[12]
  • Al Bell of Peoria Wrote: "Opponents say the current system works fine. The political parties agree. Yet, over a third of our voters are at a serious disadvantage. These growing ranks of voters are leaving the parties in frustration at the dominance of ideology over negotiation in solving our real problems. Citizens want resolution that can last instead of stalemate. Opponents say independents already have primary voting rights. Yes, if they are willing to temporarily identify with a “recognized” political party. This requirement essentially holds independents hostage to the parties, certainly a strange form of 'rights'."[13]
  • Jim Morrison of Scottsdale wrote: "If this initiative passes, it will change our voting system from one controlled by political bosses and lobbyists to one that gives every eligible voter a voice."[13]
  • Kevin Johnston of Gilbert wrote: "It will change the voting system from one based on the political parties to a system based on the voter…I expect we would see a change from the current climate of pandering to the factional extremes to win party nomination, then shifting to moderation in the general elections.”[13]
  • Arizona Chamber of Commerce neither endorsed or opposed Proposition 121. "The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry today announced that it has endorsed four propositions that will appear on the November ballot. The Chamber opposes another measure, the Quality Education and Jobs initiative, whose ballot status will soon be decided." Proposition 121 is not listed.[14]

The following are arguments that were submitted to the Arizona Secretary of State for the state voter guide. More arguments can be read here:

  • "The Open Elections Open Government system allows all Arizonans to vote in an open primary for the candidate of their choice, regardless of their party affiliation. It ends the current system of taxpayer-funded partisan primaries, and gives Independent voters and candidates an equal voice in the election process. Under Open Elections all candidates for an office run on the same ballot in an August Primary. All voters can vote in this primary election. Then the top two vote getters face each other in a runoff election. Under the existing taxpayer-funded partisan primaries, small minorities of voters select candidates who often represent the ideological extremes of the parties. Under the current system, Independent voters, who are the fastest growing category of voters in Arizona and the U.S., have little or no role in the process. In fact, in Arizona 26 out of 30 legislative districts are gerrymandered, or "safe" districts and thus the voters have no choice in the general election. The true majority of voters are cut out of the process. Allowing every voter the right to vote in every election will result in elected officials who have to be accessible to all voters not just a powerful few. It will encourage elected officials to be more respectful and listen to the views of others for the public good. Join the thousands of Arizonans who have worked to support this election reform initiative by voting yes on the Open Elections Initiative."
Submitted by Paul Johnson, Chairman, Open Government Committee.
  • "Vote Yes on Prop 121 - Open Elections Open Government. Greater Phoenix Leadership ( GPL ) is a non-profit organization whose members represent a broad range of the Phoenix Region's largest employers and our philanthropic community. Our focus and purpose is to improve the economic vitality and quality of life in the greater Phoenix region and the State of Arizona by bringing together talent, resources and leadership to create results on priority issues. Public policy decisions at every level of government in Arizona impact the quality of life of all Arizonans, as well as the strength and vitality of our businesses and our State's economy. Insuring a quality education system, strong workforce development, an environment in which businesses of all sizes can grow and provide jobs, and sound fiscal policies in our State, county and local governments are all critical public policy decisions. Elections provide a unique opportunity for every voter to impact public policy at all levels of government, and is a responsibility that determines our future. GPL believes in a representative democracy, and that every voice is important. At a time when the majority of elections are being determined by a minority of voters, GPL sees this as an opportunity to re-engage the electorate. Please join GPL members in voting YES on Proposition 121."
Submitted by J. Doug Pruitt, Chairman of the Board, Greater Phoenix Leadership; Thomas R. Franz, President & CEO, Greater Phoenix Leadership.
  • "Statement: Like much of the nation, Tucson Hispanic Chamber members have been discouraged by the divisiveness of our local, state and federal politics. We believe the Open Elections initiative will provide more opportunities for moderate pro-business candidates within any party. It should encourage a more civil tone to Arizona politics and less conflict over ideological differences."
Submitted by Lea Marquez Peterson, President & CEO, Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Tannya Gaxiola, Chairwoman, Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.



  • The main opposition to the measure was the group Save Our Vote.[15]
    • The group was led by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.[15]
  • Arizona Governor Jan Brewer stated her opposition to the measure.[16]


  • According to Arizona Republic columnist Robert Robb, in a column published on July 11, 2012, "...the two-top primary will probably prove another disappointing attempt to change election outcomes by changing the rules. There's really no substitute for better candidates running better campaigns."[17]
  • In column by Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute, Bolick stated, "...because Arizona is a conservative state, the net result will be to move our state to the left. At a time when our state’s sovereignty is all that stands between us and an ever-growing federal government, we can ill afford a system designed to sabotage our freedom spirit. Proposition 121 is complex. Please take time to explain it to your friends who may be taken in by the benign-sounding rhetoric being used by its supporters."[18]
  • Governor Jan Brewer stated, "This measure is an attack on Arizona’s political parties and an attack on our election process itself. Most disturbing, it threatens to create new opportunities for 'sham' candidates whose sole purpose is to mislead voters and fraudulently impact the outcome of Arizona elections. This is not 'open elections, open government' at all. Proposition 121 may have a 'catchy' title, but it will usher in a selection process that threatens the voice of Arizona voters."[19]
  • According to Erik Lundstrom, the president of the UA Young Democrats and the Young Democrats of Arizona and a political science senior, "For independents to be catered to in a primary, it doesn’t make sense to me, because it’s the party’s deal. The party is deciding which candidate it wants. This system would allow independents to almost dictate that process."[20]
  • Angel Torres, co-chair of the state’s Green Party, stated, "If you are a Libertarian or a Green voter your candidates are almost guaranteed not to move on to the general election,” said Torres, who also is a candidate for state House in a Phoenix-area district."[21]

The following are arguments that were submitted to the Arizona Secretary of State for the state voter guide. More arguments can be read here:

  • "Dear Voter, I urge you to vote NO on Proposition 121. The proponents would have you believe that Arizona does not currently have an 'open primary' system. This is categorically false. The truth is, Independent voters in Arizona have the right to vote at any election for any candidate by choosing a party ballot in a primary election. Proposition 121 repeals that important piece of our Constitution, passed by the voters in 1998, and further proposes sweeping changes to over 50 different election laws - the impacts of which have just begun to be understood. For example: Do you like to know a candidate's political party before casting your vote? This proposition would eliminate the requirement that candidates for partisan elective office specify their party affiliation on the ballot, opening the door to widespread voter deception. As Arizona's former Secretary of State, I know well the importance and value of increasing voter participation in our elections. But this proposition is not the way to do it. This measure is an attack on Arizona's political parties and an attack on our election process itself. Most disturbing, it threatens to create new opportunities for 'sham' candidates whose sole purpose is to mislead voters and fraudulently impact the outcome of Arizona elections. This is not 'open elections, open government' at all. Proposition 121 may have a 'catchy' title, but it will usher in a selection process that threatens the voice of Arizona voters."
Submitted by Jan Brewer, Governor of Arizona.
  • "As a 30 year retired military veteran followed by almost 20 years in the private sector with my wife's successful business, I feel the necessity to take the time and highly encourage each and everyone one to VOTE NO on initiative known as the 'Open Elections/Open Government Act.' As a former Inspector General for our Department of Defense and after reading the initiative many times, I find this initiative flawed in several areas. As an example, any candidate, under this initiative is at liberty to identify themselves (within 20 characters) as 'whatever' he or she chooses. I find no restrictions for a candidate from not registering as 'Endorsed by God' or some other misleading '20 character' listing ... this in itself will encourage and lead to an inappropriate drive by a candidate (s) to list themselves as 'whatever it takes' to get the vote. I would suggest that this initiative must not have been written by an individual (s) who considered all of the ramifications nor did they have the best interest for the citizens of this great State of Arizona in mind. I strongly encourage you to research the problems that other States have had who implemented such an initiative, read the language of this initiative and how it allows any candidate to mislead the public and most of all, understand and evaluate what the consequences may be. My 30 years in the military defending our great Nation and what it stands for which includes our rights to have a civilized voting procedure is in jeopardy by this initiative - VOTE NO!"
Submitted by Harold B. Richards, resident of Sun City.

Campaign contributions


The following are contributions made in support of the measure:[22]

Total campaign cash Campaign Finance Ballotpedia.png
Category:Ballot measure endorsements Support: $1,343,540.70
Circle thumbs down.png Opposition: $461,571.20
Donor Amount
Arizonans for a Top 2 Primary, Open Government Committee Supporting Prop 121 $1,343,540.70


The following are contributions made in opposition of the measure:[23]

Donor Amount
Save Our Vote opposing Prop 121, Safeguard Arizona's Future $461,571.20

Media endorsments

See also Endorsements of Arizona ballot measures, 2012


  • Inside Tucson Business stated: "Considering the embarrassing notoriety Arizona has received as a result of partisan politics and the fact that registered voters are leaving political parties in favor of becoming independents, this is the right time for this idea. The loudest opposition is coming from politicians and those who have a vested interest in keeping the political rhetoric turned up."[24]
  • The Arizona Daily Sun stated: "It's time Arizona voters, especially independents, stood up and demanded a voice in the selection of candidates in the election that really matters: the primary. Make the candidates appeal to the broadest possible values from the start, and we'll wind up after the general election with elected leaders truly representative of our state."[25]
  • The Yuma Sun stated: "The bottom line is most voters simply want the best office holder possible, no matter their party, and the open primary system helps achieve that. It deserves our support."[26]
  • The Arizona Republic stated: "Arizonans increasingly are rejecting the Republican and Democratic parties and registering with no affiliation. Yet elections are rigged for the two major parties, diminishing the voice of independent candidates and voters. Proposition 121, the Open Elections/Open Government initiative, reshapes the process to fit the way voters are redefining themselves."[27]


  • The Sonoran Alliance stated: "Proposition 121 would give political insiders and unscrupulous consultants the vehicle they want to corrupt the candidate selection process. Special interests would pour millions into primaries to elect sham candidates. The voters need clear choices. They need confidence in the honesty of candidate identity. They need protection against corruption in the election process. The party primary system provides these safeguards. Proposition 121 destroys them. The measure should be soundly defeated on Election Day."[28]
  • The Arizona Daily Star stated, "Proposition 121 does include reforms that are long overdue in this era of growing independent-voter registration. The deck is stacked against an independent in even getting on the ballot. As an example, aspiring Republican candidates must obtain 5,600 signatures to run for statewide office. Democrats need 4,700. Independents must round up 31,000. The proposition also would eliminate the free access to voter-registration rolls that only organized parties get. As much as we favor parts of this proposal, we believe it is too easily manipulated and will result in fewer choices. We say "no" to Proposition 121."[29]


2012 measure lawsuits
By state
North DakotaOhioOklahoma
OregonRhode Island
By lawsuit type
Ballot text
Campaign contributions
Motivation of sponsors
Petitioner residency
Post-certification removal
Single-subject rule
Signature challenges
Initiative process
See also: List of ballot measure lawsuits in 2012

Maricopa County Court Case

On July 23, 2012, a lawsuit was filed with Maricopa County Superior court aimed at blocking the measure from the ballot. According to reports, the lawsuit against the measure was filed by opponents of the measure, who were represented by Attorney Michael Liburdi. Liburdi claimed the initiative has "a legion of unintended consequences." Liburdi continued by saying that the proposal violates the state single-subject rule.[30]

Initiative proponents' campaign spokesman Joe Yuhas said the lawsuit would fail because the residents who signed the petition are entitled to have a say on the measure.

According to reports, arguments were heard during the week of July 30, 2012.[31]

On August 6, 2012, the court ruled that the measure should not be placed on the ballot because a provision in the measure violates the state's single-subject law.[32]

Judge Mark Brain stated that there was no reason why a prohibition on public funding for party activities should be included in the initiative.

According to reports, supporters of the initiative, The Open Government Committee, appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court to overturn the ruling on August 7, 2012. On August 17, 2012, the high court ruled, without comment, that the measure be placed on the ballot, if enough signatures were found to be collected by the petition drive.[33][34]

Editor's Note: Court case name and link were not immediately posted by news reports.

Open Government Committee v. Ken Bennett

On August 24, 2012, a lawsuit was filed by the Open Government Committee after Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett's office disqualification of more than 100,000 signatures on initiative petitions led to the measure's exclusion from the 2012 ballot.

Supporters of the measure stated that the secretary's office used an incorrect formula to calculate the results of the random sample and that Maricopa County officials invalidated signatures that should have been counted.

A hearing was scheduled for August 28, 2012.

The case docket can be found here.[35]

A counter lawsuit was filed by opponents of the measure asking for the measure to be kept off of the ballot. The court case can be found here.

According to reports Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Rea ruled on August 31, 2012 that the measure be placed on the ballot.[36]

However, challengers stated they wanted another two hours to make their case in court. Attorney Mike Liburdi told the Arizona Supreme Court on September 4, 2012 that he was "cut off" by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Rea in the middle of his arguments. According to Liburdi, "Given the magnitude of the controversy -- a proposed constitutional amendment that will fundamentally change the manner in which public officers are elected -- it was unreasonable and an abuse of discretion not to provide (challengers) with more time to present their case."[37]

The Arizona Supreme Court finally made a ruling on the case on September 7, 2012 allowing the measure to appear on the November 6, 2012 ballot.[38]


Polls, 2012 ballot measures
  • During the period of October 4-11, 2011, a poll was conducted by Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy concerning the topic of nonpartisan ballots in primaries. The survey asked state residents if they favored a nonpartisan primary ballot system. The results of the poll follow. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.[39]
Date of Poll Pollster In favor Opposed Undecided Number polled
Oct. 4-11, 2011 Morrison Institute for Public Policy 58% 33% 9% 600

Path to the ballot

See also: Arizona signature requirements

In order to qualify for the 2012 statewide ballot, supporters were required to collect a minimum of 259,213 valid petition signatures by July 5, 2012.

According to reports, on June 4, 2012, supporters of the initiative stated that they had collected enough signatures to make the ballot. Reports stated that petition drive organizers had collected more than 280,000 signatures from state voters.[40]

Although enough signatures were allegedly collected, supporters said at the time that they would keep collecting them leading up to the deadline in order to ensure that they had room for error.[41]

On the day of the deadline, July 5, supporters turned in signatures to the Arizona Secretary of State's office. According to reports, however, state elections officials checked 5 percent of the signatures on the submitted petitions and found 30 percent of signatures checked were invalid. Using that formula, more than 100,000 signatures were deemed invalid, leaving the initiative drive short of signatures to be placed on the ballot.[42]

However, a court ruling overturned this finding, allowing the measure to be placed on the ballot.

See also

External links

Additional reading


  1., "Open Government Committee launches top-two open primary ballot initiative in Arizona", August 15, 2011
  2. Business Journals, "Paul Johnson Ballot iniative...", Retrieved October 3, 2011
  3. Associated Press,"Initiative would switch Arizona primary to 'top 2'," September 27, 2011
  4. Arizona Secretary of State, "Ballot Measures", September 17, 2012
  5. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  6., "An in-depth look at the Open Government Initiative", August 17, 2011
  7.,"Open primary goes back to court" August 29, 2012
  8. The Arizona Republic, "Open elections can break gridlock", September 29, 2012
  9. 12 News, "Push is on for open primary in Arizona", May 9, 2012
  10. Arizona Secretary of State, "State of Arizona Registration Report", August 28, 2012
  11. The Daily Courier, " PROPOSITION 121: PRO: Open primaries promote nonpartisanship, proponents say", October 13, 2012
  12., "Prop. 121 – ‘top two’ primaries, yes or no?", October 10, 2012
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Independent Voter Network, "Independents Support Arizona Top-Two Open Primary Initiative", October 15, 2012
  14. Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry,"Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry Weighs in on Five Ballot Measures", July 9, 2012
  15. 15.0 15.1, "Maricopa County Attorney opposes open primary initiative", September 5, 2012
  16. Sonoran Alliance, "Governor Jan Brewer: Vote NO on Proposition 121!", October 15, 2012
  17. Arizona Central, "'Top-2 primary' no magic pill for moderation", July 11, 2012
  18. Tuscon Sentinel, "'Open Elections' initiative a Trojan Horse", September 12, 2012
  19. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named sonoroan
  20. Daily Wildcat, "Prop 121 pushes for fair representation of all political parties on election ballot", October 18, 2012
  21. Cronkite News Online, "Libertarian, Green parties: Proposition 121 would put us out of business", October 17, 2012
  22. Arizona Secretary of State, "Campaign Finance", Retrieved November 27, 2012
  23. Arizona Secretary of State, "Campaign Finance", Retrieved November 27, 2012
  24. Inside Tucson Business, "Vote for the good of business", October 12, 2012
  25. Arizona Daily Sun, "Open primary system is the game-changer Arizona sorely needs", October 12, 2012
  26. Yuma Sun, "Open primary has advantages for state voters", October 12, 2012
  27. Arizona Republic, "Leveling the playing field", October 11, 2012
  28. Sonoran Alliance, "Proposition 121 Corrupts Arizona’s Election System", October 1, 202
  29. Arizona Daily Star, "Endorsement: Prop. 121", October 13, 2012
  30. East Valley Tribune, "Open primary foes file lawsuit to keep measure off Arizona ballot", July 16, 2012
  31. East Valley Tribune, "Judge to hear arguments in Arizona open primary initiative", July 25, 2012
  32. The Voting News, "Judge blocks top-two initiative from Arizona ballot", August 7, 2012
  33. Arizona Capitol Times, "Top-two primary supporters appeal to high court", August 8, 2012
  34. Tri Valley Central, "AZ high court puts ‘top two’ initiative back on Nov. ballot", August 21, 2012
  35. Arizona Daily Sun, "Initiative backers sue for spot on Arizona ballot", August 24, 2012
  36. Arizona Republic, "Judge OKs top-2 primary plan", August 31, 2012
  37. Arizona Daily Sun, "Open primary opponents want 2 more hours", September 5, 2012
  38. Arizona Daily Star, "Open-primaries measure to be on Arizona ballot", September 7, 2012
  39. Cronkite News Online, "Poll: More than half of Arizonans support a nonpartisan ballot in primaries", November 14, 2011
  40., "Open elections initiative appears headed to ballot", June 4, 2012
  41. Arizona Republic, "Backers: 2 Arizona ballot initiatives have enough signatures", June 6, 2012
  42. The Daily Courier, "Petitions filed for 2 Arizona ballot measures", July 5, 2012