Brewer approves bill limiting local election dates

Bill requires all primary elections for municipalities, counties and school districts be held in August

KINGMAN - Starting in 2014, Kingman residents will be voting for their city council members in the summer and fall instead of the spring.

Gov. Jan Brewer signed House Bill 2826 Monday afternoon. The bill requires all primary elections for municipalities, counties and school districts to be held in August and all general and runoff elections in November of even numbered years.

The bill also requires all special elections to fill vacant seats on boards or recall elections to be held on the state's consolidated election dates in March, May or November. It also requires that all special elections requiring the assessment of a secondary property tax, such as for municipal bonds or school district bonds, to be held during the general election in November.

Special taxing districts such as fire districts are exempt from the requirements.

Proponents of the law state it will save local governments money and make it easier for voters to make it to the polls.

Opponents say it will cost more to move the elections, it will artificially shorten or length some terms of office and voters may not finish an extremely long ballot.

The League of Arizona Cities and Towns also questioned the constitutionality of the bill. It pointed to a recent ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court that dealt with municipal elections in Tucson.

According to the League, the Legislature passed a law in 2009 requiring all city elections to be non-partisan. Tucson's city charter calls for partisan elections. The issue worked its way through the court system until the Arizona Supreme Court rejected the law in April saying that the Arizona Constitution gives chartered cities and towns the right to govern their own elections.

According to the League, 76 out of the 91 towns and cities in Arizona will have to move their election dates, including Kingman.

When the bill first passed the Arizona House of Representatives in March, Kingman city council members were divided over whether it would save the city money and increase voter turnout or if it would lose city elections in a long fall ballot and contribute to voter fatigue. However, the entire Council, at that time, agreed that the bill was just another attempt by the state to make a grab at local power.

"Once again, the legislature has mandated this poorly written piece of legislation that is a 'one size fits all approach,'" Mayor John Salem said in an email Monday. "The amendments that allow for special elections are vague at best. We have very little if any discretion with how our election cycle will be implemented. The only downfall that I can think of that might hurt us is losing the Home Rule Option in a sea of initiatives," he said.

"I feel that the voter is a very informed participant of the process and we should not worry so much about losing our part of the ballot. The facts show that voter participation in an already apathetic climate will increase close to 100 percent by moving to a fall cycle," he said. "My only complaint is more mandates by the state. If the state feels that we can't make our own decisions, why heck, why even have mayors and councils or local representation. This legislature is supposed to be conservative with less regulation, less government intervention, less bureaucratic policy. Seems just the opposite to me."

In a letter to Secretary of State Ken Bennett, Brewer raised concerns that the Legislature may need to take a second look at the new law during its next session.

Brewer pointed out that the new law overrules all local ordinances and city or town charters governing how local elections are to be held. It also exempts all special taxing districts, including nine that are currently required to hold elections on consolidated election dates in March, May or November.