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Arizona voters are taking part in what's called the presidential preference election

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. Arizona is one of the states we're watching closely this election, and it's among a handful of states voting in the presidential primary today. In 2016, Arizonans helped vote former President Trump into office. But in 2020, the state went for President Biden, who won by just over 10,000 votes. Voters there today are taking part in what's called the presidential preference election. NPR political reporter Ximena Bustillo is on the ground in Arizona this week and joins us now. Hey, Ximena.

XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: Hey there.

CHANG: OK, I know what primaries are. I know what caucuses are. What is a presidential preference election?

BUSTILLO: Well, voters will be taking to the polls to make their selection for president nominees, but this is separate from the state's own primary election in that it's only about the presidential contest. Any other federal candidates, such as for the Senate or House and state and local candidates, will be on another ballot voters will receive for the Arizona primary that's not until July 30.

One catch here is only those who are registered as Democrat or registered as Republican will have received a ballot. That means independents and those affiliating with any third party don't get to vote. And this is significant for a state like Arizona because nearly a third of all registered candidates - voters, sorry - here have registered as independents. So really, it's only a fraction of voters who will have a say.

CHANG: But the thing is, Trump and Biden - I mean, they've both won enough delegates from other states to secure the nomination, so tell us what makes this race interesting in Arizona?

BUSTILLO: One thing to know is that voters here have been mailing in their ballots since February, so before Super Tuesday and some of the big contests that we've been covering, you know, at the network. That means that this ballot also includes the name of some candidates who have dropped out of the race, like former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. And parties may have their presumptive nominees already, but Andrew Adams, who is a local GOP chair here, he said he hopes the election will motivate voters in Maricopa County for the general election.

ANDREW ADAMS: I think it's a foregone conclusion what's going to happen. We're excited to support President Trump in trying to win this election.

BUSTILLO: He told me that he hopes people across party lines stay politically engaged, even if it seems winners are already determined. Democrats also hope results will demonstrate strong party support for their candidate, Joe Biden, and for the 2024 election season generally. Here's Francesca Martin, co-founder of the student-led PAC Keep Arizona Blue, speaking about the presidential preference election, also known as the PPE.

FRANCESCA MARTIN: So I think the PPE really gets Arizonans who might not be politically minded thinking about the next election. And I think what's even more important is that young voters, especially, will look towards their more local races coming July 30.

BUSTILLO: She hopes support for local Democrats and initiatives also trickle up for eventual support for Biden. But we have to remember, voters are generally less engaged with primaries than with general elections. And, as I mentioned, in Arizona, fewer people are able to vote in this presidential preference election to begin with.

CHANG: Still, I mean, Arizona is a pretty significant swing state, right? So what is the current state of play here?

BUSTILLO: Well, the Biden campaign this month has really focused in on Arizona. Biden is expected to fly in for some events this afternoon, and he will host them tonight and tomorrow. Vice President Kamala Harris and first lady Jill Biden were also here earlier this month. Today, Biden is expected to visit a Mexican restaurant in South Phoenix, Ariz., a predominantly Latino area, to launch the Latinos Con Biden organizing effort. A third of Arizona's population is Latino, and so this is a significant part of the electorate. The former president has not been in Arizona yet this year. Trump was supposed to be in Phoenix in January to headline a GOP fundraiser, but he backed out of the event.

Arizona voters have a lot to weigh in this cycle besides the fate of the White House. There's a competitive Senate race. You know, Kyrsten Sinema, the independent senator, announced she was not running for reelection, and local reproductive rights groups are working to put an abortion initiative on the ballot.

CHANG: All right. That is NPR's Ximena Bustillo in Phoenix, Ariz. Thank you so much, Ximena.

BUSTILLO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.
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