Voting in the general election begins Thursday with the distribution of early ballots, and as usual in presidential election years voters will have quite a long ballot to slog through.
At the top of the first side are the big races that most voters will be fairly well-informed about – president, congress, state Legislature and what not.
But at the bottom and on the flipside, voters will have to decide a bunch of races for which there is precious little information about the candidates or even what the office they’re running for does.
Most of those offices are in the county and they don’t need to be filled through an election. They’re anachronisms of the 19th century and there are better ways to hire clerks, accountants, process servers and justices of the peace.
In the 19th century, corruption was rampant but there was no FBI or state police to investigate public malfeasance. Consequently, one of the only ways for citizens to control their public officials was to make most public offices elected.
Moreover, Arizona is huge and getting to the capitol or from one county to another was an arduous and expensive journey. So local government was really local back then.
At statehood, Arizona only had about 250,000 residents, Pima County only about 26,000. So when voters elected a court clerk, he was the entire office. (The Sheriff had a couple of deputies).
Now in 21st century there are nearly 7 million Arizonans and 1 million Pima County residents and those county agencies are all big bureaucracies and there is no need to elect their leaders; the Board of Supervisors should appoint them. (And there should be more supervisors representing fewer people but that’s a different argument for another day).
Corruption is not anywhere near the problem it was 100 years ago plus there are robust state and federal law enforcement agencies tasked with investigating it when suspected – as the FBI’s recent surveillance of Attorney General Tom Horne proves.
And is there really a conservative or liberal way to file court records (court clerk), collect property tax payments (treasurer), oversee home school registrations (school superintendent) or record property transactions (recorder)? Do we really need to be electing process servers (constables) for the justice courts? Does any voter really have any idea whether a justice of the peace is really a good justice of the peace?
No to all.
Good arguments could be made about the political nature of the county attorney, sheriff and assessor but even better arguments could be made about how much better those offices could be run if you took some of the politics out of their leadership by making them beholden primarily to the standards of their profession rather than to their campaign donors and a fickle electorate.
To top it off, candidates for these offices are rarely opposed. Of the six county agency races this year, half are unopposed. Of the seven constable races, five are unopposed and all five justices of the peace are unopposed. If no one is even going to run against the current office holders, what’s the point in having an election?
Several of these offices are required by the state constitution; so to convert them to appointed offices requires a state ballot proposition.
So when we’re all filling out our ballot this year and sighing about how long it is and how we don’t really know much about any of the down-ballot races, keep in mind that the power to help ourselves by reducing the number of elected offices in the counties rests with us.
County elected office reform should be on the 2014 ballot.