Regular readers of my column know I am a fierce critic of Tucson’s ill-fated, 1929 “at-large” council election scheme. ‘At-large’ is the opposite of separate, geographic districts (i.e. the proposed ‘Ward-Only’ in Tucson), where candidates run for a fixed number of seats from anywhere within the municipal boundaries.
At-large has contributed almost as much to the Old Pueblo’s passive stagnation, economic decline, and leadership impotency, as the active efforts of their socialist, J-school news rag, the Arizona Daily [Red] Star. It now appears nearby Oro Valley, ~35 sq. miles, population ~48K+, is going down this same path, courtesy of its own ‘at-large’ voting scheme.
At-large elections are rife with the potential for political chicanery. They allow bloc-voting to occur for slates of candidates, who even following the letter of that [at-large] law, could conceivably live next door to each other. In broadly spread-out municipalities, other voter & taxpayer interests become secondary.
Most importantly, these single-issue or single-area concerns can dominate and intimidate [at-large] elected councilors, who would—if elected in separate geographical districts, otherwise be more thoughtful and circumspect about the varied issues before them.
At-large voting empowers the permanent government bureaucracy over its elected officials….as bureaucrats can easily use these single issue groups to tilt policy decisions one way or the other. It happens all the time in at-large systems. Tucson being the prime example.
There are other reasons against ‘at-large’ schemes, and least of all, the Civil Rights Division of the US Justice Department absolutely abhors them, especially along the US-Mexico border region. When we lived in New Mexico, the CRD-USJD hauled no less than 12 NM towns, cities, or counties before federal authorities, winning every case against at-large schemes, and leading to a 1994 state constitutional ballot initiative that passed by more than 70%, abolishing it and going to district-based elections statewide.
Of course, New Mexico is in the Federal 10th Circuit Court District, whereas Arizona is in the infamous 9th Circuit Court, notoriously biased for liberal control schemes, like at-large. Just ask Tucson’s former Mayor, lawyer Jonathan Rothschild, who single handedly kept Tucson’s at-large scheme afloat, after a “rogue” 3 judge panel from the 9th Circuit originally ruled in 2015 [nonbinding] it was crooked & unconstitutional as Hell.
Rothschild then engineered a larger panel of judges to overrule the first group, in what has to be either the single most persuasive performance by an American Mayor, or some serious reconsiderations of different things altogether. Go figure. After that he retired from politics. Duh-oh!
As for Oro Valley, the Mayor and his council slate are back again. All thanks to “at-large”.
In Arizona, the only way to fix this is with a local ballot initiative, that forces elections to be from districtized seats, or in Tucson’s case, “Ward-Only”. Don’t expect elected at-large councilors to support such; they might be dim-witted, cynical, jaded, mendacious, and ruthless…but they’re not stupid.
Sellers is a Southpark Republican living in incorporated Oro Valley; his background is federal technology commercialization