Greg Patterson at Espresso Pundit has a pretty good assessment of a long-standing problem that Tucson has had with its city government elections. Both Greg and I would know since we both are derived from Tucson and have seen first-hand the problem in action.
Greg’s post addresses the issue of a legislative solution to Tucson’s partisan-style election system. But I want to add another point to his post that is often overlooked. And I would know having been intimately familiar with the problem in the early 90′s.
Presently, the City of Tucson holds a primary election for its mayor and councilmen. Both parties usually put up good candidates. City council candidates go through the primary at the ward level. Mayoral candidates go through the primary city-wide.
The problem comes into play during the general election. All primary candidate winners (mayoral and councilmen) move on to the general election but instead of the voters in each ward electing their own councilman, the rest of the city gets to vote in the ward elections. (Tucson City Charter, Chapter XVI, Section 9) This means that the voters of one ward may overwhelmingly elect a councilman who is rejected by all the other wards voting. The best example would be akin to having Arizona nominating its two US Senate candidates only to have the rest of the states gang up and vote for the candidate who would have received the lesser votes by Arizona voters.
Sec. 9. Mayor nominated and elected at large; councilmen nominated from wards, elected at large.
Beginning in the year 1930, and continuing thereafter, the mayor shall be nominated from and elected by the voters of the city at large, and the councilmen shall be nominated each from, and by the respective voters of, the ward in which he resides, and shall be elected by the voters of the city at large.
It’s completely unfair to the voters of each ward.
My understanding of the system goes back to Tucson’s City Charter. If I recall correctly, the election provision dates back to 1930 when the population of Tucson was sparse and there were barely any voters to participate in an election. I assume the then city council wrote the charter in a way to bring as many voters into the process regardless of where they lived and how many wards there were.
Fast forward to the last decade on the 20th century and Tucson has grown exponentially. There are clearly more voters and more unique areas of Tucson that deserve to elect individuals who are invested in their community.
In the early 90′s I was part of a committee to change Tucson’s city charter so that voters could vote for their primary candidate winners not just in the primary but in the general election as well. That effort failed primarily because there was limited interest to move it forward. And this was during a time where East Tucson, which is primarily Republican, would put up a great conservative candidate only to have the other wards reject that candidate in favor of some liberal wacko.
I now live in Mesa, the third largest city in Arizona (behind Tucson) where the voters do get to elect their councilmen by ward in the primary and general – although it is a non-partisan election.
So my recommendation to Senate-elect Jonathan Paton would be to not only make city elections non-partisan but to require cities above specific sizes to elect their councilmen by ward only in the general election.
Update: Sonoran Alliance contacted Senator-elect Jonathan Paton regarding his legislative efforts and discovered that the bill currently scheduled to be introduced will contain the Election by Ward provision.