Everything’s email these days.
But if I could write a letter to independent voters, those much-maligned, unaligned, ragged individuals of rugged individualism who now quietly make up the largest and loosely knitted group of Arizona’s electorate, it would go something like this:
Dear Independent Voter:
It seems like nobody writes letters anymore. Instead, our mailboxes are filled with ads for pre-approved credit cards … and bills for post-approved credit cards. But that’s not why I’m writing to you. I just wanted to make sure that, in sifting through the piles of junk mail, you didn’t miss an important postcard.
No, not the “wish you were here,” ocean-view postcard from your friend vacationing in San Diego. The important one is in nondescript black and white, has that trademark-boring “official” look and deals with the Aug. 26 primary election.
I know: You’re an independent voter; you don’t vote in primary elections.
Why? Because you can’t, right?
Wrong. Independent voters in Arizona have the right to cast either a Republican or Democratic ballot in the primary and not lose any of the previously undisclosed privilege of being of independent voter — but, you must choose one or the other.
The vast majority of independent voters I’ve come across — even those in the know who should know better — don’t know they actually can vote in party primaries. They still mistakenly think they’re prohibited, uninvited to the party by the parties.
That was true — back when postage stamps were 32 cents. But in 1998, Arizona law was changed allowing independent voters to cast either a Republican or Democratic ballot (but not both, since that practice remains prohibited for obvious reasons).
Anyway, apparently the party-primary invitation has not been delivered or such notifications were dismissed as “junk” and thrown away along with all those fast-food coupons and furniture ads cluttering the mailbox.
Look, Arizonans are notorious for not voting in primaries (28 percent in 2012, according to the Secretary of State’s Office), but independents are worse. Much worse. How much worse? Just one in 10 independents (and even less, by some official counts) voted in the 2012 primary election, according to elections officials.
Forget San Diego. That “wish you were here” postcard might as well have been sent from the ballot box.
But independents can collectively change that. If you’re on the early voting list, just sign and return the aforementioned black-and-white official postcard sent to your address, and check the box for either a Republican or Democratic primary ballot. Just do so by July 12, and make sure you sign it.
Hey, the postage is even paid.
Independents can also call their local county elections division (602-506-1511 in Maricopa County) for more information about primary voting methods and options (including on-site precinct voting), or go online to the various elections websites.
The important thing is to take action so you can vote.
Why vote in the primary, you ask? Well, for starters, here in the Grand Canyon State (also known as the Safe District State, with its many noncompetitive legislative districts heavily favoring either Republican or Democratic candidates by voter registration), the primary is often, essentially, the general election in terms of deciding the outcome.
If you wait until November before voting, the race often is already run and the winner(s) long decided.
But independents also should take into account the importance of primaries in federal and statewide races.
For example, there are three candidates seeking the GOP nomination in the Congressional District 1 race; three more Republicans in the District 2 contest; two Republicans in both Districts 8 and 9; and five Democrats in District 7.
The governor’s contest is another good example: At last count, there are seven declared Republican candidates (including one write-in candidate) for the state’s top office. The GOP winner will advance to the general election to face the lone Democrat, along with a Libertarian and independent candidate.
It’s very possible the GOP primary winner will be the next governor (although the Democratic candidate will do his best to thwart such a succession of Republican power in the executive office). Shouldn’t independent voters have a say in choosing the very best leaders for Arizona, starting with the primary choices?
If you answered “yes,” independents, you now know what you can and should do.
If you answered “no,” you’re most likely still tethered to a major political party — or too busy sending “wish you were here” postcards from San Diego to be bothered by Arizona matters.
Sooner or later, though, we all have to come back from our day at the beach and face the harsh reality of living in Arizona: Voting matters.
With some 35 percent of the electorate, independent voters certainly have the numbers to shape the future. But so far, the growing ranks of independents have been practicing addition by subtraction (as in continuing to register to vote in record numbers, but not actually voting in primaries and seldom in general elections). That sum of that equation is a net zero in terms of impact.
In writing this letter, I wonder aloud: Can independents finally be counted on to help determine Arizona’s path? Or will independents remain a paper tiger in the digital jungles of voter registration rolls?
Our state awaits your reply.
P.S. The new cat is fine. Very independent.
• Joseph Garcia is director of communication at Morrison Institute for Public Policy and director of the Morrison Institute Latino Public Policy Center at Arizona State University. MorrisonInstitute.asu.edu