Kill the PPE

State’s top election official calls for an end to state-funded presidential primary

By Eric Petermann,

Arizona’s top election official has asked lawmakers for more money to pay for the March 22 Presidential Preference Election and is telling legislators it’s time for the state to stop paying for the presidential primary.

Registered Republican, Democrat and Green party members will be eligible to participate in the March 22 preference election. Candidates running for president from each political party will be on each party’s respective ballot. The PPE is held once every four years in Arizona and provides state political party delegates with an idea of who state voters support for president.

Michele Reagan, Arizona Secretary of State whose office directs all statewide elections, said Thursday she is asking for legislation to increase state funding of the March 22 election. She is also asking lawmakers to consider eliminating future presidential primaries.

Reagan said beyond the cost of running a statewide election — roughly $9.6 million — the PPE will disenfranchise about one-third of the state’s registered voters who are not members of a recognized political party in Arizona.

“I think it’s time we ask ourselves if it’s fair that one-third of the people who are registered to vote and who are paying for this election, should be excluded from participating,” Reagan said.

The Secretary of State said she has yet to meet a lawmaker who can make an argument that limiting who can vote in a state funded election is a good idea.

Katie Howard, Cochise County Elections Director, strongly agrees with Reagan’s opinion and said the preference election has increasingly become a county burden. Howard said the county is reimbursed at $1.25 cents per ballot, regardless of the actual overall cost the preference election. In 2012, the last time this statewide vote was held, Howard said the county’s cost was roughly $4 per ballot.

“Of course, we’ve lowered that cost significantly since then, but even with that effort we won’t be anywhere close to a $1.25 per ballot,” Howard said.

The county elections director said the PPE was created by state statute in 1992 and legislators set the reimbursement to counties at that time. State lawmakers agreed in 2012 to pay the full cost of the PPE, but changed their minds during the first session of the 52nd Legislature in 2015 and reduced the state funding, returning to $1.25 per ballot reimbursement.

Secretary Reagan said she has asked state lawmakers to restore full funding for the preference election, recognizing that the additional cost is a hardship for counties.

“I served as a State Representative, so I’m well aware of what these kinds of mandated costs can do to a county budget,” Reagan said.

She said for the first time in a number of years, Arizona will conduct four statewide elections in 2016. Reagan said she has asked lawmakers for additional funding to make up the cost counties will incur in running each of these statewide contests.

“It may not be that much money compared to the overall budget, but when you add up the costs we will have this year in running state elections, it’s a lot of money,” Reagan said.

Lawmakers allocated about $20 million in the state budget, based on the $1.25 per ballot formula, and Reagan said the actual cost will be about twice that amount.

“How wise is it to have taxpayers paying for something that they can’t participate in?” Reagan said.

Howard agreed with the Secretary of State’s opinion and said her office has provided the state with an estimate of what the March 22 preference election will cost.

“This is just my office and doesn’t include the County Recorder’s costs,” Howard said.

Without including printing costs and with all staff time added in, Howard said the election will cost more than $152,000.

“The state is now telling us we can’t include the cost of paying full-time staff for the hours they work, so that would reduce the cost of the election for just my office, without printing costs, to about $85,000.”

Howard said the Presidential Preference Election was once thought to be important for Arizona in distinguishing the state during the national campaigns for president.

“We were kind of early with our vote compared to other states, and it was thought that this gave Arizona voters a little more clout in the presidential election process,” Howard said.

Some states only hold primary elections, some only hold caucuses, and others use a combination of both. Primaries and caucuses are staggered between February and June. Iowa will be the first presidential caucus on Feb. 1, followed by a primary election in New Hampshire on Feb. 9.  The primary elections are run by state and local governments, while caucuses are private events that are directly run by the political parties themselves.

Howard said unlike when it began, the March 22 presidential primary in Arizona will have little bearing on the nomination of presidential candidates for each party.

“I can tell you that we’re preparing a ballot that has 14 names of people running for president on it, and already some of those have dropped out.”

The outcome of the vote is not binding for party delegates who attend the national convention later this year, where the presidential nominee is elected by the vote of state party delegates.

State Representative David Stevens, who heads the influential House Rules Committee, said Friday that leadership in the Arizona Legislature favors fully funding statewide ballots in 2016 and eliminating future Presidential Preference Elections.

“From what I understand we’re looking at paying what it costs for the March 22 primary, but then saying ‘that’s it,’ and we wouldn’t hold them anymore,” Stevens said.

Stevens said he expects legislation will be introduced early in the current session, which opened Jan. 11, to allocate additional money for the cost of statewide elections in 2016. Lawmakers acted last year to reduce the state’s reimbursement for statewide ballots from the full cost, to $1.25 per ballot.

Secretary of State Michele Reagan said Thursday that the per ballot reimbursement is about half of the actual cost of the March 22 statewide presidential primary election. She said the state budget allocates about $4.5 million for each statewide ballot in 2016 and the four elections in Arizona this year will cost roughly $9.6 million, each.

Secretary Reagan said she is urging lawmakers to discontinue state funding of future presidential primary elections. Arizona has held a Presidential Preference Election every four years since 1992.

Reagan said she opposes the fact that about one-third of all registered voters in Arizona are not eligible to vote in the presidential primary, but still have to pay for it.

Stevens, who represents Legislative District 14 and lives in Sierra Vista, said if lawmakers do vote to kill future presidential primary elections, he anticipates state political parties would hold caucuses, much like the upcoming caucus in Iowa on Feb. 1.

Since 1980 in the United States, caucuses have increasingly become important part of the presidential nomination process.