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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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GOP Challenge to Tucson Election Gets the Boot

TUCSON (CN) - Republican candidates improperly waited until after a City Council election to challenge Tucson's voting process, a Superior Court Judge ruled Monday.

Losing candidates Kelly Lawton and Margaret Burkholder sued Tucson and Democratic incumbents Paul Cunningham and Shirley Scott in Pima County Court in November.

Both Cunningham and Scott were re-elected in the Nov. 3 general election and have been sworn in to office.

Citing a Nov. 10 Ninth Circuit ruling that found Tucson's "hybrid" city elections unconstitutional, the Republican challengers said the results of the general election for City Council should be thrown out.

Pima County Judge Gus Aragon rejected that claim on Monday.

Tucson has used its hybrid system to elect City Council members for some 70 years, dividing the city into six wards of roughly equal population, with each ward allotted one seat on the City Council. A ward primary is open only to voters living in that ward, while the general election is open to voters citywide.

The nonprofit Public Integrity Alliance and several voters challenged the system in Federal Court in April, claiming it denied or diluted votes in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of 14th Amendment.

U.S. District Judge Cindy Jorgenson upheld the hybrid method, but the Ninth Circuit on Nov. 10 found it unconstitutional, in a 2-1 ruling.

Lawton and Burkholder filed their challenge in Pima County Court after the ballots had been counted. Their claims are therefore "precluded by laches", Judge Aragon ruled late Monday.

"This action challenges the election process," Aragon wrote. "It should have been pursued before the election, not after."

The appeals court has not issued a mandate on its ruling, and the city has until Friday to file a petition for a panel or en banc rehearing.

Tucson's mayor and City Council on Nov. 16 authorized City Attorney Mike Rankin to file such a petition. The filing will automatically stay the mandate.

Aragon dismissed the Superior Court complaint in its entirety.

Cunningham and Scott are represented by James Barton of Torres Law Group in Tempe.

"It's not surprising to me that the judge said they waited too long," he said Tuesday.

The plaintiffs are represented by Kory Langhofer and Thomas Basile of Statecraft in Phoenix.

Langhofer said in an email Tuesday that the plaintiffs plan to appeal.

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