by J. Charles 'Chuck' Coughlin | April 17, 2017

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I don’t want to trivialize one person’s suffering, but the United Airlines passenger incident last week reminded me a little of how I felt in the 2016 elections last summer and fall. Instead of being dragged off the plane against my will after I paid for a service, I was dragged onto a ballot I had paid for with choices I didn’t like.

Less than 30% of registered voters vote in partisan primary elections, where only two parties make the rules on who can run and participate. These private party elections don’t treat all voters and candidates equally – creating special rules for over 1.3 million registered voters on how they can participate, setting significant candidate signature requirement barriers, and barring independents and people who choose not to join a party from appearing on the primary ballot as a candidate. 

Bear in mind, these elections are paid for and subsidized by all taxpayers, who have no choice in whether or not they would like to pay for these elections. It bears a striking resemblance to the only 4 privately owned domestic airlines, which operate 90% of the flights, making the rules on when, where and how we fly – using publicly funded airports.

Clearly, there’s something wrong with how we got to where we are.

In an e-mail to employees after their passenger incident went viral, United CEO Oscar Munoz claimed that while the event was unfortunate, the process set up for situations like that was followed correctly. Defenders of the current election system in Arizona have made similar arguments, stating that this is the process we have and voters can choose to register with a party to vote or face the consequences.  They hide behind the process that clearly treats independent voters and voters who choose to not join a party differently.

What Munoz and proponents of our state’s election system get wrong is their misplaced focus on defending a broken process and failing to fix it. If a policy results in a passenger suffering a concussion and a broken nose after being dragged down an aisle or more than 34% of registered voters being treated unfairly, it’s time to fix the entire process. Nobody should be dragged off a plane after paying for a seat and nobody should be dragged into paying for an election they can’t participate in.

It’s no wonder why United’s stock tumbled by a billion dollars following this incident and why survey after survey continues to show that less than 40% of voters believe the State of Arizona is heading in the right direction.

As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wrote in a recent newsletter to shareholders, “It's not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, 'Well, we followed the process.' A more experienced leader will use it as an opportunity to investigate and improve the process. The process is not the thing. It's always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us?"

It’s clear the process owned United Airlines and right now, the voting process owns Arizonans. Isn’t it time Arizona voters start owning their election process? Will any of our experienced leaders have the courage to fix the process?




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