Like most states across the country, Arizona has long suffered from abysmally low voter turnout in local elections. In the state’s two largest cities – Phoenix and Tucson – voter turnout rates for the most recent local candidate elections hovered at a mere 30 percent.
But in 2012, the Arizona Legislature enacted a simple fix that will dramatically increase voter turnout in cities and towns across the state. That fix is HB 2826, which requires Arizona municipalities to hold local candidate elections on the same day as statewide candidate elections – August or September and November of even-numbered years.
Scottsdale aligned its election dates in this manner in 2008. Since that time, its turnout rates have risen from 30 percent to between 60 and 85 percent. Similar increases occurred in Chandler after the city aligned its elections with statewide elections.
But now Phoenix and Tucson – the “30 percenters,” we’ll call them – have filed a lawsuit to evade the law before its positive effects can be felt. They argue that the state cannot require charter cities to move their election dates. But this argument misses the mark.
Under the Arizona Constitution, cities may establish city charters, but those charters are subject to state law. If a charter conflicts with state law, state law trumps.
The only exception to this rule is that when the conflict arises in an area of purely local interest, city charters prevail in the case of conflict. But Arizona courts have already established that the dates on which cities hold local elections is not a matter of purely local interest but is instead a matter of statewide concern.
The Goldwater Institute has petitioned the trial court to allow it to join in defense of the law. As an amicus party, or “friend of the court,” the Institute represents Representative Michele Ugenti, who sponsored the bill in the legislature, residents of both Phoenix and Tucson, who recognize the value of election alignment, and the Institute itself as the drafter of the bill.
We’re confident that the court will recognize Arizona’s interest in increasing voter turnout, decreasing voter apathy, and saving taxpayers money.
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