PHOENIX – On Friday, State Sen. JD Mesnard requested an investigation by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office into the City of Tucson’s decision to schedule an off-cycle election in 2021.
In 2018, the Legislature passed Mesnard’s bill, H.B. 2604, which “requires political subdivisions to consolidate local elections to the same dates as statewide elections if at least a 25 percent decrease in voter turnout occurs between the most recent candidate election with the highest number of votes and the most recent election in which the office of the Governor appears on the ballot.”
“For the 2019 Tucson elections, there was a significant decrease in voter turnout, with just over 39% turnout in 2019 compared to just over 67% in 2018,” noted Mesnard in his complaint. “Despite the significant decrease in voter turnout, Tucson called the next election for August 2021 rather than aligning the election with statewide election dates.”
Pima GOP Chair David Eppihimer said Tucson’s decision to set an off-cycle election was “typical Tucson; always trying to establish itself as independent and not subject to state law.”
The City of Tucson’s elections have been mired in controversy over the years. In December 2019, the Democratic Party controlled Pima County Board of Supervisors approved a request to send a letter to the Tucson City Clerk regarding irregularities associated with the mail-in ballots used during the November 2019 General Election.
The request was made by Supervisor Ally Miller on behalf of the County’s Election Integrity Commission.
Commissioners objected to the fact that the voters’ political party affiliation was easily visible on mail-in ballots. Commissioners outlined their objections in a memo to Supervisor Richard Elias in a memo dated October 20, 2019:
At the October regular meeting of the Pima County Election Integrity Commission, the commissioners were presented a copy of a standard City of Tucson ballot affidavit for the November 5, 2019 General Election. The form shows printing irregularities that could result in voter fraud or malicious judgments and acts carried out. The envelope clearly displays voter information that should be private above the signature line.
Additionally, under certain circumstances, the affidavit in the information it includes may be legible from the outside of the return envelope before the return envelope is opened.
Disclosure of party designation is personal information that should not be available to anyone who may be handling, receiving, processing or tabulating cast votes. At the very least it has the effect of eroding confidence in the handling of elections. Questions of election integrity spill over to other elections. The City of Tucson’s perceived disclosure private information could possibly have an adverse impact on the integrity of all Pima County elections.
In a 5-3 vote the members of the Pima County Election Integrity Commission requests that the Board of Supervisors send a letter of concern to the City of Tucson recommending that election officials investigate the cause of this irregularity, it’s possible consequences and the effect, if any, on the ongoing City of Tucson election.
According to Capitol Media Services, in 2018, Mesnard claimed that his bill would increase turnout.
Off-cycle elections tend to favor union-backed candidates and causes due to their ability to turnout the vote while unaffiliated voters are unaware that an election is even occurring.
In his letter to City Attorney Mike Rankin, Attorney General Mark Brnovich explained the complaint process:
In the report, the Attorney General will reach one of three conclusions. See id., § 41- 194.01 (8). If the Ordinance does not violate any provision of state law or the Arizona Constitution, the Office will take no further action. Id., § 41-194.01(8)(3). If the Ordinance may violate a provision of state law or the Arizona Constitution, the Attorney General will file an action in the Arizona Supreme Court. See id., § 41-194.01 (8)(2); State ex rel. Brnovich v. City of Tucson, 242 Ariz. 588 (2017). If the Ordinance violates a provision of state law or the Arizona Constitution, the Office will notify the City in writing and state that the City has 30 days to resolve the identified violation. A.RS.§ 41-194.01(8)(1). If the Attorney General determines that the City failed to resolve the violation within 30 days, the Attorney General will notify the State Treasurer, who shall withhold and redistribute from the City state shared monies as provided by A.RS. §§ 45-5029(1) and 43-206(F).