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Horne says laws in preclearance limbo are now in effect

Attorney General Tom Horne (Arizona Capitol Times photo)

Attorney General Tom Horne (Arizona Capitol Times photo)

A law adding two new at-large seats to the Maricopa County Community College District board will go into effect now that Arizona is no longer subject to preclearance under the Voting Rights Act, according to Attorney General Tom Horne.

In an opinion requested by Secretary of State Ken Bennett, Horne on Thursday said two provisions of the 2010 bill HB2261 that did not receive preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice are effective as of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 25 ruling that struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. The Arizona Attorney General’s Office withdrew its preclearance application for the bill after DOJ raised concerns, but the Legislature never repealed it.

“The Shelby County decision removed the preclearance obligation by holding the coverage formula unconstitutional. Therefore, any duly enacted state statutes that had not been precleared or repealed are deemed valid and enforceable,” Horne wrote. “Those two at-large board members must be elected during the 2014 election.”

In the past 11 years, the Attorney General’s Office has withdrawn six preclearance applications. Most of those laws or regulations, however, have been repealed or superseded, so the Supreme Court’s ruling will have no effect on them.

Horne’s opinion affects two provisions of HB2261 – one creating the two new at-large seats on the MCCCD board, and another provision lowering signature requirements for board candidates.

Maricopa County elections director Karen Osborne said the at-large seats will be on the ballot for the 2014 general election.

DOJ has long been wary of at-large districts because of their tendency to reduce minority voting strength. Some people have expressed concern that at-large districts for the MCCCD board would diminish Latino voting strength on the board.

Doyle Burke, the board’s president, said he was concerned that the at-large districts could skew geographic representation. Under the new system, he said, it would be possible for three board members to live in one district.

“I don’t see the need for at-large members. I like the current setup of one board member from each district,” Burke said.

But, he added, “If it happens then we will deal with it and welcome two new board members.”

Horne also opined that a provision reducing the number of signatures needed for district board candidates to get on the ballot could also go into effect. In previous elections, candidates had to collect signatures equal to one half of one percent of their district’s total voter registration. HB2261 changed the requirement to one-fourth of one percent, and set a maximum number of signatures needed at 1,000, regardless of how many voters are in a district.

For at-large candidates, one-fourth of one percent would be about 4,789 signatures. But under the cap, they will need to collect only 1,000 signatures to qualify for the countywide seats.

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