Fixes for consolidated elections stall, leaving cities in dark about when to hold elections
Published: May 2, 2013 at 10:11 am
When voters in Tucson and Phoenix went to the polls to elect their mayors in 2011, voters elected them for four years. But a bill passed last year by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer may extend the mayors’ time in office by a year. Or it may shorten their terms by a year.
Nobody is sure which one it will be.
After seeing the savings and the boost in voter turnout Scottsdale achieved from moving its election dates to the fall of even-numbered years to match the state election cycle, Rep. Michelle Ugenti of Scottsdale sponsored a bill to move all city elections to coincide with the state schedule.
Her consolidated elections bill from last year states that starting in 2014, all elections in the state must be held in the fall of even-numbered years. Of the 91 cities in Arizona, 75 currently hold their city elections either in the spring or in odd-numbered years.
The bill, however, didn’t specify what cities should do to comply with the law or how they should deal with elected officials’ terms. Also uncertain was how to deal with city alternative expenditure limitation, or “Home Rule,” elections already scheduled to go to the ballot in the spring or in odd-numbered years.
So this year, Ugenti came back with a fix declaring that cities and towns can decide whether to shorten or lengthen their elected officials’ terms. The bill also specified that for any municipality whose alternate expenditure limit expires in the spring of 2014, the statutory penalties would not apply in fiscal year 2015 provided the municipality seeks voter approval of an alternative expenditure limit in the fall of 2014. The bill would have also made technical fixes to account for any possible new town incorporations.
But the bill has been stuck in the Senate. The prevailing sentiment at the Capitol is that the bill has been held up due to a longstanding feud between Ugenti and Republican Sen. Michele Reagan, who hails from the same Scottsdale-based Legislative District 23. While the bill, HB2527, actually passed through Reagan’s Senate Elections Committee, it has since stopped moving through the process.
Without the fix, cities and towns will have no direction on how to comply with the law, or as Ugenti put it: “There will be a lot of angry cities and towns.”
Ugenti said she’s still trying to figure out a way to fix the problem for the cities, though she didn’t have any definite ideas for how.
Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, believes the city councils inherently have the authority to decide how to comply with the law and don’t technically need direction from the Legislature to move their election dates into compliance.
But he wants the Legislature to put it into statute to ward off any possible lawsuits.
“It would just be more reassuring for a lot of our communities to have that explicit authority approved by the Legislature,” he said.
The fix for newly-incorporated cities will only be necessary if Vail, south of Tucson, decides to incorporate before the law goes into effect in 2014, he said. But the league would like to have the fix in case it does happen.
The alternative expenditure limitation, or home rule option, will affect another 16 cities that already have their alternative expenditure limitation elections set for the spring of 2014.
Alternative expenditure limitation elections are scheduled to coincide with city elections. They offer municipalities the option of asking voters to allow them to spend more than is prescribed in the state Constitution.
State law dictates that cities and towns exceeding the expenditure limitation for any fiscal year without authorization via an election shall have a portion of its allocation of taxes withheld. Ugenti’s consolidated election fix bill would have suspended those penalties while the transition took place.
“The biggest impact (of not getting a fix bill) is going to be on the cities and towns that have their alternate expenditure authority expiring. They would lose six months of expenditure authority,” Strobeck said.
Oro Valley is one of the towns that had scheduled a home rule election for the spring of 2014. Mayor Satish Hiremath said that under the new law, and without any cover from Ugenti’s cleanup bill, their best option is to hold off on the election until the fall of 2014, which means the new budget limit can’t go into effect until until fiscal year 2015.
Hiremath was originally not against consolidated elections, but after getting a glimpse of what the consolidated elections might look like, he changed his opinion.
The special election to replace U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords landed on the same date as the Oro Valley town election in the spring of 2012. Hiremath said the participation at the bottom of the ballot, where the town issues are placed, was dwarfed by the federal race at the top of the ballot.
He said that by holding a separate election for city issues only, voters have a chance to read up on local issues and local candidates, and to get involved with the government that affects their lives most directly. When all the elections are lumped together, he worries that people lose interest in the local issues.
“The ballot is going to be incredibly long, and people will get tired of it. Somewhere at the bottom we (local candidates) get lost,” he said.
|PRIMARY AND GENERAL ELECTION DATES|
|FOR ARIZONA CITIES AND TOWNS|
|Lake Havasu City||Fall||Even|
|*Population of 100,000 or greater||Not Impacted||Charter City|
|Spring: Primary election – 2nd Tuesday in March; General Election – 3rd Tuesday in May.|
|Fall: Primary election – the tenth Tuesday before the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.|
|General election – the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.|