Lawyers for the state Republican Party are huddling to try to find out how they can close their primary election.
Republican leaders who attended a mandatory state meeting last month voted to put a halt to the state's quasi-open primary system. Voters in 1998 approved allowing independents and voters in minor parties to vote in the Democratic or Republican primary.
The move is coming at a time of heightened interest in the Republican primary. The Demo-cratic ballot will be relatively tame compared with the GOP, where voters will make picks in high-profile races, like the McCain-Hayworth Senate match, and the gubernatorial and congressional races.
"Some are concerned because they're afraid of disenfranchising independents - and that is a real concern - but in reality, what's probably more important is that the Republican primary reflects what the Republicans want," said local party chairman Bob Westerman. "And if you're opening up that decision to people in other parties, you're not getting that."
Westerman said the idea is to dangle the primary as an incentive to persuade people to join. There's some thinking that open primaries cement loyalty since independents may stick with a primary pick all the way through the general. "But really, I think that's kind of a stretch," he said, adding that voters who like a candidate will support that candidate in the general election anyway.
Matt Benson, a Secretary of State's Office spokesman, said it's been hard to gauge the impact of open primaries on voter participation. Independents may have switched parties, but they aren't necessarily new voters, he said.
On the other hand, he said, there's no question it has tamped down registration for the two big parties.
There are more than 929,000 unaffiliated or independent voters in the state. Want to know how fast their ranks are growing? Just since the 2008 general election, their numbers have swelled by 105,000.
On the other hand, registration in both major parties is slumping. Democrats have about 1,035,000 voters, with Republicans hovering at about 1.1 million.
Closing a primary wouldn't be unprecedented.
The presidential-preference elections are closed to independents already. And the Libertarians got the courts to give them a pass, arguing that theirs is such a small party - indeed, only about 25,000 are registered now - that they could be swamped by independent voters and lose the ability to pick their own nominees.
Matt Roberts, a spokesman for the state Republican Party, said he hopes the lawyers and party higher-ups will decide in the next few weeks whether to mount a challenge.
Jennifer Johnson, a spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party, said her party welcomes the participation of independents.
"It sounds like the Republican purity test is coming to Arizona," Johnson said, in reference to a national push by conservative activists to withhold money from candidates who don't answer correctly on a list of policy positions, from gay marriage to opposing government-run healthcare.
Whether it would have the desired effect is another unanswered question.
Robert Mayer, one of the organizers of the local Tea Party, said registering would be hard to stomach, but he admitted it would be hard to sit out this primary, too. "All people will do is register, vote and then unregister. It's not going to give them an accurate count of people who feel loyal to the party."
Sarah Roads, a small-business owner, likewise has been an independent most of her adult life, enjoying the flexibility of crossing party lines to vote for people and issues. She said it would be detrimental to the democratic process to disenfranchise a growing bloc of voters. "And it could backfire. We could just end up going to the other side."
Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 573-4243 or email@example.com