Tucson sues to challenge state law on consolidated election dates

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Rep. Michelle Ugenti (R-Dist. 23) sponsored HB 2826 (consolidated election dates; political subdivisions), a bill providing for the consolidation of elections in the fall of even numbered years only. The law will apply to elections in 2014 and thereafter.

This legislation purportedly is the first of its kind enacted in the nation – a strong indication that it is an ALEC drafted bill, as it was also supported by other Koch brothers funded groups such as Americans for Prosperity and the Goldwater Institute, and the Tea Party.

The City of Phoenix and the City of Tucson, both charter cities, authorized their city attorneys to explore suing the State of Arizona over HB 2826 earlier this year. These charter cities hold their mayor and council elections in odd numbered years. The law directly impacts these charter cities. It would require city charter amendments which must be approved by the voters, and a one-time only extension of terms of office for mayor and council members who stand for election in 2015.

The City of Tucson filed its special action for declaratory and injunctive relief on October 10, 2013 in the Pima County Superior Court, City of Tucson v. State of Arizona et al. (Case No. C20126272). An answer to the complaint was filed on November 15, 2012. The City of Phoenix filed a Motion to Intervene as a plaintiff on November 29, 2012. (Pleadings are not available online). The case is currently assigned to Judge Charles Harrington of the Pima County Superior Court.

The League of Arizona Cities and Towns and other charter cities that opposed HB 2826 are expected to lend their support, possibly intervening as plaintiffs. Under court rules for special actions, this case is likely to be moved to the Maricopa County Superior Court.

The League of Arizona Cities and Towns in its "2013 Final Resolutions" for legislative recommendations to the 51st Arizona Legislature adopted "League Staff Resolution #1" which calls upon the legislature to repeal HB 2826 (at p.34). League of Arizona Cities and Towns 2013 Final Resoultions (.pdf).

Even the Arizona Republic(an) recently editorialized in favor of the repeal of HB 2826. Let's shorten Nov. ballot:

The just-finished election process can easily be improved.

Lines would be shortened, and voters could better concentrate on the local candidates and issues before them if cities and school districts held elections on a single date, away from the partisan November general election.

The reason the elections are staged in November is because the Legislature required it.

The spoken reason: to save money by holding them at the same time as the national and state elections.

The unspoken (and real) reason: The Republican-dominated body figured more partisan politics in local elections would help candidates sympathetic to the GOP.

So, the result was predictable.

Ballots were unnecessarily long, and the time in the voting booths made for longer-than-necessary visits to the polls. What's more, the long list of races, propositions and judges up for retention makes for a huge challenge for local candidates to get the attention of voters.

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A nonpartisan date for school-district and city elections would draw a significant slice of the electorate, voters who care about their neighborhoods and schools.

At the same time, they would have the time to focus on the candidates and their positions in a way that's impossible when campaigns for these vital offices are lumped with contests at national, state, county and legislative levels.

* * *

The Legislature's mandate was a classic example of a solution to a problem that didn't exist.

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The Legislature… has made matters worse by taking away the rights of such midsize and smaller cities to hold elections on a nonpartisan date. Even Phoenix will have to switch to the partisan cycle, unless the Legislature's edicts are thrown out in court.

So, let's get this straight. Where there were no problems, now there are. The Legislature should reverse course and allow local elections on nonpartisan dates.

The Arizona Legislature should repeal HB 2828 ASAP and save everyone unnecessary litigation costs and attorneys fees. Charter cities are entitled under the Arizona Constitution to determine how they are governed, and how to conduct elections. Arizona Supreme Court unanimously rejects 'Paton's Law' .

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