Reminder to independent voters: You can’t vote in Az’s upcoming 'presidential preference election'

Independents may make up roughly one-third of Arizona’s registered voters, but they’re locked out of the approaching March 9 presidential preference election.

Unlike other local, state and federal primary elections, in which a non-party voter is allowed to request either a Democratic or Republican ballot, next month’s contest is closed to all but party members.

Pima County Recorder Gabriella Cázares-Kelly said every four four years, the limitation in the presidential nominating races creates much confusion and anger, especially to voters who turn out on Election Day only to be told they can’t cast a ballot.

“We’re expecting to see large numbers of people showing up and feeling very frustrated that they’re not eligible to participate,” Cázares-Kelly said. “Voting is a very emotional act for people and when you go prepared to support a candidate and then you find out you’re not eligible to participate, it can be very upsetting.”

Cázares-Kelly said the March election shouldn’t be called a “primary,” even though that’s that popular lexicon. Instead, they are technically “presidential preference elections” that operate differently from other federal elections in Arizona. Among those differences: Voters are selecting a slate of delegates to represent a candidate at the respective parties’ national conventions. And those delegates are not obligated to vote for the nominee who prevails in the March election.

But voters still have time to register with the Republican or Democratic party. They must join their preferred party by February 20.

Voters can change their registration online at servicearizona.com or by filling out a new voter registration form, which can be found at most post offices, libraries and other locations. (Find specific spots at the Pima County Recorder’s website.) The Recorder’s Office will also be open until 10 p.m. on Tuesday, February 20, to assist people who want to change their registrations.

The Democratic ballot will include President Joe Biden as well as U.S. Rep.  Dean Philips, author Marianne Williamson and little-known candidates Frankie Lozada, Jason Michael Palmer, Gabriel Cornejo and Stephen Lyons.

The Republican ballot will include former president Donald Trump, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and a number of candidates who have already suspended their campaigns, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, ex-Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Vivek Ramaswamy, David Stuckenberg, John Anthony Castro and Ryan L. Binkley.

Those wishing to cast a ballot should also check to see if they are still registered voters. As part of a regular review, Pima County has cleared about 14,800 voters from the rolls in recent months, compared to last summer, according to voter registration records.

As a way of making sure those lists are accurate, the County Recorder’s Office mails letters to all registered voters. If a letter is returned as undeliverable, the office sends a second letter. If officials don’t hear back from the voter within 35 days, the voter is moved to inactive status. After two federal election cycles without a response, the voter is removed from the rolls, according to Cázares-Kelly.

“That is per state law,” the county recorder said.

Of Pima County’s 623,998 registered voters, according to this week’s
updated report, 237,051 were Democrats (38 percent), 173,675 were
Republicans (28 percent) and 204,148 were not registered with any of the
recognized political parties (33 percent). Less than 1 percent of Pima
County voters were registered with the Libertarian, No Labels or Green
political parties. The Green Party recently regained ballot status,
after falling off the list of recognized political parties for several
years due to the small number of voters registered.

The total number of statewide voters dropped by nearly 100,000 since last summer.

Of the more than 4.1 million voters in the state as of January 2, 1,418,407 were Republicans, amounting to just less than 35 percent. That’s slightly ahead of the 1,410,085 voters (just more than 34 percent) who had no party preference or were registered with parties not recognized by the state. The Democratic Party continues in third place, with 1,211.940 registered voters (just less than 30 percent), according to a quarterly report released by the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office last month.