Photo by Les Stukenberg.
Originally Published: March 4, 2018 6:05 a.m.
Elections are a matter of local control, particularly when it comes to the state’s 19 charter cities.
That was the conclusion three years ago from the state Court of Appeals, a decision that was affirmed by the Arizona Supreme Court without comment. State lawmakers were trying to consolidate all elections on even-numbered years.
This week, state legislators are launching another effort to tell local governments when they can have their elections. Current Arizona law generally requires that elections be conducted only in even-numbered years, and only on four specific days, according the Capitol Media Services. The premise is that consolidating all federal, state, local and school issues onto the same ballots improves turnout and saves local voters the cost of running a separate election.
That is not the case for charter cities, which includes the City of Prescott. They can do what they want. Prescott continues to hold its elections in odd-numbered years.
Appellate Judge Michael Miller wrote in 2015 that “an off-cycle election allows the city to obtain the full focus of the electorate,” adding that it also insulates the local elections from the “influence of partisan issues that are inevitably interwoven with federal, state and county elections.’’
We agreed then and still do so now.
This time around, state lawmakers say they found a loophole of sorts: they would put into law a declaration that having consolidated elections “is a matter of statewide concern to increase voter participation in elections.’’
But the City of Prescott — and Yavapai County, for that matter — already enjoy some of the best percentages of registered voter participation, compared to other places in the state.
Legislators also want a trigger, which would spell out that the mandate for consolidated elections would kick in only if there is a “significant decrease’’ in turnout in its off-year elections. Problem is, there is no mention of how a city would get back its local control afterward.
Last time cities took the state to court to preserve their local control. The justices stated state lawmakers have no power here.
We are unsure why state lawmakers are wasting their time. Calls to House leadership, where HB 2604 was born, have gone unreturned prior to press time.
What should be a better debate — locally — is whether the city should continue with both primary and general elections for local issues, or go straight to the general.
But that is not the concern of the state, and it should not be.