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Phoenix Suburb Fights Arizona Election Law

PHOENIX (CN) - A Phoenix suburb sued Arizona, claiming its City Charter trumps a state law that requires charter cities to hold elections in even-numbered years.

Goodyear sued Arizona and its Secretary of State Ken Bennett on Nov. 26 in Maricopa County Court.

Goodyear, pop. 65,000, challenges House Bill 2826, which was passed by the Republican-led Legislature in 2012.

House Bill 2826 requires that beginning in 2014 "all candidate elections, other than a special election to fill a vacancy or a recall election, held for or on behalf of any political subdivision of this state other than special taxing districts may only be held in the fall in even-numbered years."

The law requires city elections to be held on the same day as general elections across the state for county, state and federal positions.

Goodyear claims the law causes a number of conflicts. Its mayor and three of its six council members were elected in the spring of 2011 to 4-year terms that do not expire until 2015. If an election is not held for those positions until the fall of 2016, as required by HB 2826, those seats would be vacant for more than a year.

The three other council members were elected in the spring of 2013 and their terms do not expire until 2017, which would leave their seats vacant until the fall of 2018.

"Since the city's charter was first approved by the voters in 1987, the charter has always required that elections for mayor and council be held in the spring in odd-numbered years," the lawsuit states. "[T]he city is empowered to determine the manner and means by which their governing officials are elected, and has exercised this power by providing for candidate elections during the spring of odd numbered years."

Goodyear claims that HB 2826 forces upon it "an untenable choice: to delay elections until the fall of even-numbered years, which will result in council vacancies, or to hold the elections in the spring of odd-numbered years as required by the city's charter, which exposes the city to challenges that the elections violate" the state law.

Goodyear says if it is forced to hold its elections at the same time as the state's, its candidates will be overshadowed and "will result in voter confusion and ballot roll-off, which is a phenomenon where fewer votes are cast as the ballot extends in length because voters fail to complete their ballots."

Its odd-year election cycle allows the city "to hold and administer its elections separately from state and county elections, thereby minimizing or eliminating problems or conflicts regarding ballot space and placement, voter fatigue, processing of mail ballots or early voting, and placement of voting locations," the complaint states.

Goodyear says the Legislature passed HB 2826 because of low voter turnout in charter city elections. Most of Arizona's cities, including Phoenix, Tucson, and Scottsdale, are charter cities.

"The legislative history for the 2012 amendments contains no factual support that the further reduction in dates upon which candidate elections can be held will either increase voter participating or decrease taxpayer costs," the lawsuit states.

The Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute pushed for passage of the law, which was signed in May 2012 by Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican.

Goodyear seeks declaratory judgment, an injunction and costs.

It is represented by City Attorney Roric Massey.

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