Brewer signs bill to limit elections
Brushing aside local concerns, Gov. Jan Brewer on Monday signed legislation that will limit cities to electing officials only in even-numbered years — and only on two days each year.
And in doing so, she may be setting the stage for a lawsuit.
Existing law now limits elections to just four specific days a year. But it is up to local officials when to have their votes.
This measure, pushed by the Goldwater Institute, further tightens that law, spelling out that the odd-year elections that many cities have will no longer be legal after 2013. And it says city votes must also be the same day the state holds its elections: on the date of the general election which is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and the primary election which by law occurs exactly 10 weeks earlier.
Enactment of Arizona's consolidated elections law will have a significant impact on Yuma, said Administrator Greg Wilkinson, who expressed surprise that Gov. Jan Brewer signed the legislation into law on Monday.
“HB 2826 will cause us some significant challenges,” he said. “We'll have to see how to handle elections and terms. We'll need to read all the details in the law to figure out how to go forward.”
Traditionally, Yuma City Council members are elected on staggered terms in elections on odd years. With the new law, the next election when council members could be elected would be in 2014. That leaves open the question about what to do about the terms of the three council members whose terms were scheduled to end in 2013, Wilkinson said. That question will again come up in 2015, when the other three council members' terms would end as well as that of the mayor.
The legislation also will impact the scheduling of recalls, initiatives and referendums, Wilkinson said.
“I'm surprised (Brewer) would sign it with the number of cities and counties that opposed it,” he said, adding that he had heard all county elections offices in the state had opposed HB 2826 and 60 cities wrote letters urging Brewer to veto it.
County Administrator Robert Pickels also was “kind of surprised” that Brewer would sign the consolidated elections bill into law. He, too, said it would have a significant impact on the county.
Unlike the city, all county elected officials are elected on even years so their terms won't be impacted.
However, the new law will impact the county's management and running of elections.
With elections on even years, that will mean voluminous ballots with a number of issues in one election that currently are spread over several elections, Pickels said. “Items will either get lost in the volume on the ballot or it will result in the calling of more special elections.”
Either way, he said, the result will be additional election costs for the county.
All elections for school boards in Yuma County are held in even years, so the new law isn't expected to impact them.
Brewer's decision came despite a last-minute flurry of letters from city officials who would be directly affected by the changes.
“The biggest issue from the local perspective is having the local issues effectively superseded by the federal, state and other issues that are going to be on the ballot, with the local issues being on page 20 before anybody gets to them,'' said Tucson City Attorney Mike Rankin.
State law already requires those federal and statewide races to be placed first on the ballot. That can leave city races at the bottom of what already is often a very long general election ballot, a place that several city officials said will result in voters losing interest before they get to those races.
“I think there is certainly a legitimate local interest in having our own elections not mixed up with too many other things on the ballot,'' Rankin said.
Brewer, however, was unimpressed by that argument along with concerns that narrowing the number of election dates will result in increased costs to local governments.
“These were the same arguments raised when the Legislature first enacted the consolidated election schedule and time has shown that it has not hindered the election process,'' the governor wrote in a special letter to lawmakers explaining her decision to sign the measure.
And Brewer said she believes it will not only decrease overall costs to taxpayers but also increase voter turnout, with people aware that election dates come just twice every two years.
Rankin said there are problems, both practical and legal.
In the former category is the fact that there are people in office now whose terms end in odd-number years. He said that raises the question of what happens in the 2013 vote – assuming one actually occurs and that current office holders do not simply have another year added on to their terms to make them now end in even-numbered years.
Potentially more significant, Tucson got a ruling from the Arizona Supreme Court earlier this year voiding a 2009 law which forbids cities from having partisan elections for mayor and council. That same law, aimed specifically at Tucson, also sought to overturn the city's modified ward system where candidates for council are nominated from each ward but elected on a citywide basis.
The justices concluded the Arizona Constitution gave Tucson and the state's 18 other charter cities special rights to control their own local matters. And they said that, in this case, the Legislature illegally intruded into that local area.
It remains an open question, though, whether that ruling will provide the basis for charter cities to challenge this new law.