Marana and Oro Valley may see several unintended consequences as a result of new statewide consolidated election dates, which is a new law passed by the Arizona Legislature.
Oro Valley and Marana officials are still learning how the new election law will impact the 2014 elections, will affect them locally.
Despite opposition across the state, Gov. Jan Brewer signed House Bill 2826 into law in May.
In Oro Valley, HB 2826 will move the 2014 town elections from spring to the Fall general election cycle.
Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath’s term expires in June 2014. Since the 2014 election dates will be moved from the Spring to that Fall, Town Clerk Julie Bower said Hiremath will likely remain in office an extra six months until his replacement takes office after the later election.
“A consolidation of local and state elections could potentially have a negative impact on voter interest and turnout,” said Hiremath. “It would force municipal candidates to compete with state-level elections for voters’ attention and ballot space, ultimately taking the focus away from the community-centered campaigning that takes place each spring.”
In Marana, town elections are held in March and May of odd-numbered years. According to Marana Town Clerk Jocelyn Bronson, at this point the question is whether terms will need to be cut short or extended to fit into the new consolidated schedule.
Bronson said that the new law will not affect the regular 2013 election.
The 2013 election will be Marana’s first all mail ballot election. It could also be the last, Bronson said, because the town cannot do all mail ballot elections under the consolidated election schedule. However, there are provisions in the approved bill that would make all-mail elections easier.
Bronson said she will not know what other consequences the law will have for the town until after she meets with the town attorney.
Bill sponsor Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, said that since changes will not take effect until 2014, cities and towns will have plenty if time to make the changes necessary for compliance.
HB 2826 was written to decrease the cost of elections for taxpayers and to increase voter turnout. Voter turnout is always higher in even-numbered years when there is either a presidential or congressional election. Many supporters hope that the new law will increase voter voice by consolidating elections since special-interest groups often dominate off-cycle elections.
Since state law requires that federal and state issues are first on the ballot, election consolidation will leave local issues at the end of an already long general election ballot, which raises the concern that voters will lose interest by the time they reach the local issues.
Another question raised by the new law is about cost. Will the new law raise the cost of elections since the ballots will be bigger?
“These are things that until we go through an election we won’t really know,” Bower said.
Ugenti said consolidated elections save money for the cities and towns because they contract with the county to produce the ballots, splitting the cost between them.
The City of Phoenix has said they plan to sue the State in order to block the new legislation. Some believe that Phoenix will be successful based upon the decision from the Arizona Supreme Court in City of Tucson v. State last year when the court protected Tucson’s right to control parts of their election process.
Ugenti said there is an important distinction between the Tucson case and the consolidated election law.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Ugenti said. “It’s disappointing.”
Phoenix is the sixth largest city in the country and in their last mayoral election voter turnout was only 28 percent. In Scottsdale voter turnout is usually between 25 and 30 percent, but after consolidating their elections turnout jumped to 60 and 80 percent, Ugenti said.
“It’s not prediction,” Ugenti said. “There’s evidence and statistics and fact to support what the bill was trying to do and what I think it will do.”
Sixteen cities and towns already have consolidated election dates and Ugenti said that in certain Arizona municipalities, election consolidation has already saved money and resulted in higher voter turnout. Voter turnout in Queen Creek for example, increased by 15.96 percent and the cost per ballot decreased by $1.41 after consolidating elections.
Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane said that in 2008 Scottsdale consolidated their elections to a fall cycle of even-numbered years.
“In 2010 it amounted to a savings of $110,000.00 for the city,” Lane said in a statement.
When Scottsdale consolidated their municipal elections in 2008, they coincided with the 2008 presidential election, which resulted in a voter turnout almost three times greater than the turnout from four years earlier.