City vs. State, in ward only electionsby Carolyn Classen on Jan. 20, 2010, under Life, Politics
The City of Tucson has sued the State of Arizona to stop them from implementing SB 1123, signed by Governor Brewer in July, which would mandate non-partisan, ward only elections for the City. Rhonda Bodfield of the Arizona Daily Star reported (click link here) on Tuesday’s hearing before Superior Court Judge Michael Miller, which I also attended.
The City’s argument is that the City Charter rules over this recently enacted state law, and that the City voters have twice rejected a change to non-partisan, ward only elections.
However, the State’s argument (and that of amicus curiae Southern Arizona Leadership Council) is that the rest of Arizona cities all have non-partisan elections, and that the state legislature wanted to bring uniformity and fairness to the entire electoral process for the state. They also argued that voters have been disenfranchised when a candidate is elected in a particular ward but defeated city-wide. This has apparently occurred 31 times between 1950 and 2007,and mostly recently in November, 2009 with Councilmember Nina Trasoff.
Other examples have occurred in the past when a Councilmember (Fred Ronstadt) lost in his own residence ward 6, but won city side. One could question if a Councilmember can adequately represent the majority of the constituents in that ward who did not elect him/her.
I can also see a problem with the current system if in the future a minority candidate is elected in their own ward in the primary, but defeated by the rest of the predominantly non-minority city voters in the general. This could be a discriminatory voting practice for the federal Dept. of Justice to investigate.
The non-partisan issue has been advocated by proponents who say that mundane city business has no political party label to it. Others argue against non-partisan races, saying that they need to know if someone is Democratic/Green/Libertarian/Republican to know how they will vote on city issues.
This lawsuit also centers on local concern/control versus compelling state interest.
Judge Miller requested supplemental briefs on the “balancing test” and the scope of the legal argument beyond the “legislative intent” of those who passed SB 1123. He said he hopes to rule by the first of second week of March.
With a potential recall of the Mayor and 2 Councilmembers in Ward 1 and Ward 3 in progress, City Attorney Mike Rankin stated that he would need a decision from Judge Miller this Spring, to prepare for a special election should any of the 3 targeted recall petitions collect enough signatures. The question of course remains if there is a recall whether the City election would be by ward only or city-wide for these Council seats.
Judge Miller’s decision (whichever way he rules) may likely be appealed to the Arizona Court of Appeals, or the Arizona Supreme Court.