September 5, 2004
More Arizonans than ever are eligible to vote in Tuesday’s state primaries, but state and county officials worry turnout could be unusually low because the election falls just after Labor Day.
Maricopa County has 1.45 million registered voters, a jump of more than 120,000 from the 2002 primaries. Pinal County has 7,700 more registered voters than two years ago.
The numbers reflect more than just simple population growth in that time, and political experts credit massive registration efforts aimed at the presidential election in November.
For Tuesday’s primary, Maricopa County has received more than 222,650 requests for early ballots, the highest ever under the state’s wideopen system for voting before election day. But the unanswered question is whether there’s a huge interest in hotly contested races, or if most people simply planned to vote before leaving town for a long weekend.
"That could be a reason for a lot of the requests, because they aren’t going to go to the polls because of the holiday," said Yvonne Reed, spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Elections Department.
Election officials are trying to stay somewhat optimistic, with county Recorder Helen Purcell predicting an overall turnout of 18 percent to 20 percent. For the 2002 primaries, 22.1 percent of the county’s registered voters cast ballots.
The lack of activity on Labor Day — no postal service and most businesses closed — prompted many candidates to shift how they are campaigning this weekend.
Some candidates are relying more heavily on autophone dialing or volunteer phone banking, and the bulk of last-minute campaign mailings were expected to arrive Friday and Saturday.
"There’s a change in strategy and a cost to get voters out when the holiday falls before the election," said Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler.
But some candidates expect Labor Day to boost their final efforts. Rep. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, said she’s relying on volunteers to go door-to-door in her district as she campaigns for a Senate seat.
"I think it helps actually, because there are more people available," Johnson said.
Along with increased numbers for the state’s three recognized parties, the number of voters registered as independent or "other" has jumped by 13 percent in Maricopa County.
Those independents potentially could affect close primary races as state law allows them to request a Democrat, Libertarian or Republican ballot.
The GOP has been a divided party this year at the federal, state and county levels. Four of six GOP congressional incumbents have aggressive primary challengers.
That includes Rep. J.D. Hayworth, who faces Roselyn O’Connell for the GOP nomination in District 5, which stretches from Scottsdale through Tempe to Ahwatukee Foothills.
Rep. Jeff Flake of Mesa is squaring off against former state lawmaker Stan Barnes of Mesa in District 6, which covers most of the south East Valley.
Among Maricopa County offices, six Republicans and two Democrats are competing for the chance to replace outgoing County Attorney Richard Romley. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is being challenged by retired Mesa police Cmdr. Dan Saban for the Republican nomination.
In legislative races, one person from each party can move on to the Senate race in the November general election, while two candidates from each party move on to compete for House seats. But the Republicans edge in voter registration for much of the East Valley means several legislative races effectively will be decided in Tuesday’s primary.
Topping the list is the race between state Sen. Slade Mead of Ahwatukee Foothills and Rep. John Huppenthal of Chandler for Mead’s seat in District 20.
Johnson is facing off against former Mesa High School principal Mary Jo Vecchiarelli — Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker’s wife — for the open Senate seat from District 18.
In Scottsdale, Rep. Colette Rosati has been locked in an increasingly bitter race with her seatmate, Rep. Michele Reagan, and newcomer Royce Flora.
In Pinal County, Democrats are featured in races for both the Senate and House. Incumbent Reps. Cheryl Chase, DKearny, and Ernest Bustamante, D -Mammoth, are dealing with a challenge from longtime Sen. Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville, who must step down from the Senate because of term limits.
In one nonpartisan issue on the ballot, residents of Gilbert and Higley unified school districts will decide whether to merge into a single district.