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Judge tosses year shift for Tucson elections

A judge has nixed a state law that would have required Tucson and Phoenix to change the year in which their city councils are elected, issuing a permanent injunction blocking the Legislature's attempt to require charter cities to move their elections to even-numbered years.

The 2012 state law would have required the cities to move from odd- to even-numbered years for city elections beginning in 2014.

Pima County Superior Court Judge James Marner agreed with attorneys for the two cities in a ruling filed Tuesday, writing that state law cannot override election laws specified in city charters.

Marner ruled that the law would be a "significant intrusion" into the cities' ability to run their affairs, and that setting election dates was not a "matter of paramount statewide concern" that would justify the Legislature mandating a change.

Under the state Constitution's "home rule" provision, Tucson and Phoenix "are empowered with the ability to determine the manner and means by which their governing officials are elected," Marner wrote.

There are 89 municipalities in Arizona with city charters — documents that legally establish city governments, akin to a city constitution.

"Charters are a constitutional grant of local control," City Attorney Mike Rankin said Wednesday. "There's no way to comply with that state law and comply with our charter."

The Republican-backed bill was pushed by those contending that the shift would increase voter turnout. Opponents maintained it was an infringement on local control, and that city elections would be lost in the shuffle of even-year state and federal contests.

Marner's ruling pointed to evidence of significant undervoting for local candidates who appear at the end of long ballots when they are elected along with federal and state candidates.

Tucson's elections are held in odd-numbered years under the City Charter, with three of the five City Council seats being filled in this November's election. The other two ward offices, and the mayor's office, are up for election in 2015.

If the law had taken effect, it was unclear how the terms of local officials would have been changed to conform with a different election cycle. Rankin said that terms could not be cut short, but that officials could serve longer than their elected term, remaining in office "until their successors are elected."

If state officials appeal the decision, the city will "continue to argue the same position," Rankin said.

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3 comments on this story

Aug 15, 2013, 9:37 am
-0 +1

@Dylan Smith

It probably won’t. I guess I was referring to Tucson’s last “victory” in this matter, meaning the big bad state government trying to dictate to the perfect little angel Tucson on what to do or not to do…

With this latest issue, you got a choice between lower voter turnout, or lower billing on the even-numbered-year ballot. Either will give you an identical result, really. This being the case, it makes me wonder why anyone on either side of the issue fought this battle. It wasn’t worth bringing up, and it wasn’t worth defending, either.

Aug 15, 2013, 9:28 am
-0 +0

@Bret Linden,

How would changing Tucson’s election cycle so that less attention would be paid to local races, and fewer people vote for those running, help right anything that might be wrong with our city?

Aug 15, 2013, 7:11 am
-1 +2

On paper, the “home rule” thing sounds pretty good. And, in principle, I agree with that and support it.

However, when it comes to local Tucson elections, something is VERY wrong, and has been for some time. You would have to REALLY be drinking the kool-aid to not be able to see that.

Think of how an outsider would think…there was a scam cooked up to steal $230M of taxpayers money. Not only were those people not criminally charged, but many of them were actually reelected, over and over again. And, many of these same people are wasting over another $200M on a stupid choo choo train that is predictably over-time and over-budget, and that so few people will ever ride.

Do you have any idea how insane this is?

I say that Tucson needs more oversight in its election process. Again, something is VERY wrong.

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