SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Tucson City Council elections unconstitutionally exclude most voters from participating in ward primaries, the Ninth Circuit ruled Tuesday.
In a 2-1 ruling, judges reversed a judgment that allowed Tucson's "hybrid" voting system, and sided with the plaintiffs/appellants, the Public Integrity Alliance and five voters.
Tucson divides its city into six wards of roughly equal population, and each gets one seat on the City Council. Each ward holds its own primary, which is limited to residents of the ward. In the general election, all city residents can vote for one council member from each ward.
"The practical effect of the Tucson system is to give some of a representative's constituents - those in his home ward - a vote of disproportionate weight," Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the majority. "That is the very result the Supreme Court's one person, one vote jurisprudence is meant to foreclose. Every otherwise eligible voter who will be a constituent of the winner of the general election must have an equal opportunity to participate in each election cycle through which that candidate is selected."
Tucson claimed its hybrid system imposed a "reasonable 'residency restriction'" on the right to vote, but the Ninth Circuit said the system violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, by excluding out-of-ward voters from the primaries, thereby discriminating among residents represented by the same governmental unit.
The city said its primary elections are separate from the general election, and each election round is, and can be, governed by its own rules.
But the Public Integrity Alliance said the primaries are part of the general election, so the system excludes voters during primaries, and improperly weighs the votes of residents from each ward.
In a dissenting opinion nearly as long as the majority ruling, Circuit Judge Richard Tallman concluded, "the Constitution permits Tucson to set different geographical units for its primary and general elections" because "primary and general elections are not constitutionally equal."
Senior District Judge Lawrence Piersol joined Kozinski in the majority.
Tucson City Attorney Michael G. Rankin was not available for comment Wednesday, due to the Veterans Day holiday. Nor was Kory Langhofer, attorney for the Public Integrity Alliance.
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