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Judge rules against challenge to Tucson city elections

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Judge rules against challenge to Tucson city elections

  • Tucson City Hall.
    Bill Morrow/FlickrTucson City Hall.

Writing that "no court decision has determined that the same geographical unit must apply to corresponding primary and general elections," a federal judge has knocked down a challenge to Tucson's hybrid election system.

Republicans have contended that the city's process of nominating City Council candidates in ward primaries and electing them in a city-wide general election puts their party at a disadvantage. Ironically, the last time a Republican was elected, Steve Kozachik (who later changed parties) lost his Midtown ward but was carried into office by voters in other wards.

The GOP has pushed to either have Council members elected by ward-only elections, or have primary ballots cast by all city voters. Tucson's election process was established with the first City Charter in 1929.

U.S. District Judge Cindy Jorgenson didn't directly address political concerns in her 13-page ruling, writing that the plaintiffs — several Tucson voters and Bruce Ash, a member of the Republican National Committee who lives just outside the city limits — didn't prove that Tucson's system violates any rights under the U.S. or Arizona constitutions.

"The important regulatory interests of Tucson justify the reasonable, nondiscriminatory restrictions placed by Tucson upon the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of voters," the judge wrote.

"The city has broad power to establish the procedure and provide conditions for the nomination and election process for city offices," wrote Jorgenson, who was named to the bench in 2001 by President George W. Bush. "The procedure established by the Tucson City Charter does not employ a system in which districts of unequal population could result in unequal representation and does not involve unequal weighting of votes."

Bill Beard, chairman of the Pima County Republican Party, said "I believe that an appeal will take place and be filed shortly."

In holding that Tucson has a regulatory interest in the structure of its elections, the judge quoted the city's lawyers, who wrote that "having nominations through primary elections in each ward, using separate ballots for each party, allows the party electorates in each of those wards to make their own choice of a nominee, and simultaneously acts as a guarantee for the city electorate as a whole that each ward's nominee actually has support among the party members within that ward. Moreover, since nominees compete in the general election only against other candidates nominated in the same ward ... ward nominations also help assure that each ward has a local representative on the council, and, conversely, that the full Mayor and Council has members who are aware of each ward's issues, problems, and views."

"The procedure allows for those with knowledge of each ward’s problems and views to intelligently express their views, by having a voice in selecting the candidates for office," Jorgenson wrote.

"Further, the historical outcome complained of by Plaintiffs, that on at least eight occasions since 1991, a candidate has won election to the Tucson Council in the at-large general election despite failing to carry the ward in which he or she resided and from which he or she had been nominated, would not be altered by allowing all Tucson voters to participate in a ward’s primary," the judge wrote.

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