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Arizona Election Consolidation Bill Divides Counties

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[Image courtesy of wikipedia]

This morning's Arizona Capitol Times includes a story about several counties' call for the Governor to veto an election consolidation bill.

According to the article, 27 county officials and 40 of 76 affected municipalities signed a letter arguing that the bill "would stamp out local control, politicize non-partisan elections and increase election costs." More specifically, they are concerned that by bringing local elections in line with federal and state elections would create a host of problems:

Some cities expressed concerns that the bill might complicate their elections to the point that their counties decide to no longer administer local elections, which they argued would require the cities to contract with private companies.

[Others] expressed concerns that it would burden them with additional costs, which might lead the count[ies] to no longer administer local elections.

Opponents [...] also say the bill would politicize non-partisan elections - [for example,] Tucson is the only city in Arizona that holds partisan municipal elections - and that city races would get "lost in the shuffle" of the more high-profile races and ballot propositions.

On the other side, you have state legislators and some larger counties - like Maricopa County (Phoenix) - favoring the move as a way to improve turnout and lower costs:

Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, said recent elections in Scottsdale and other cities that already hold their election in the fall of even-numbered years - cities with more than 175,000 are required to by state law - show higher voter turnout than in off-year elections. She said at least 10 cities hold such elections, and have had no complaints.

"They've, from all accounts, enjoyed the savings and voter participation that's come with consolidating," Ugenti said. "It is in the state's interest to make sure elections are uniform, fair, predictable."

Looking behind the specifics of the bill, this dispute looks like the classic big vs. small, urban vs. rural issue that often divides state and local officials. The larger counties like Maricopa obviously see the benefits of the economies of scale that would accompany consolidation - while other, smaller jurisdictions focus more on the loss of other benefits that would result from consolidation's effort to emphasize cost and convenience.

There is no "right" answer in this disagreement; indeed, this is just the kind of policy choice with which legislatures struggle every day.

In some ways, the root of the problem may be in the uniform requirement that all counties and municipalities engage in consolidation. If larger jurisdictions see the benefit of and want to harmonize their election calendar, that should be considered; to the extent that smaller counties and jurisdictions want to keep their pre-existing calendars, that's important, too.

I realize that there are likely a host of other legal and administrative issues involved - local government laws are usually very(!) complicated- but perhaps there is an opportunity in this dispute to tailor the opportunity of individual jurisdictions to consolidate with their desire to do so.

1 Comment

  • I just found this recent PowerPoint by Maricopa's election division that discusses the pros and cons of the consolidation bill in greater detail ... based on this, it appears Maricopa's support for the ideas is far more nuanced than the articles would suggest: http://recorder.maricopa.gov/voteroutreach/pdf/english/4-2012%20Legislative%20Update.pdf

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