by Lucy Morrow Caldwell
Ask any grassroots activist and he’ll tell you that getting out the vote is tough, because the majority of Arizonans have busy lives beyond the ballot-box. Worse still, with elections happening at a variety of times throughout a two-year cycle, many voters don’t know when an election is taking place. This gives special-interest groups the upper hand because they can turn out their supporters on obscure election days while regular Arizonans are left in the dark.
This could all change with a single piece of legislation.
HB 2826, a bill currently moving its way through the Arizona Legislature, conforms all election dates across the state—from bond to municipal to statewide—to occur in the August-November cycle of even-numbered years.
In Scottsdale, where municipal elections have been consolidated to Novembers in even-numbered years since 2008, voter participation has ranged from 60 percent to over 85 percent. Previously, when Scottsdale municipal elections occurred in the springtime, voter turnout rarely rose above 30 percent.
Voter turnout suffers in cities without consolidated election dates.
Less than 30 percent of registered voters turned out in Phoenix’s 2011 mayoral election, and only 25 percent voted in the council races in 2009. Tucson’s 2011 mayoral election turned out just over 30 percent of registered voters.
This is not an indicator of voter apathy in those cities. When Tucson placed a municipal ballot question on the 2010 general election ballot, over 60 percent of registered voters participated.
The Arizona Legislature has a long history of pursuing legislation to increase citizen participation in the voting process—the motor-voter initiative, the permanent early voting list, and other voter-awareness campaigns. HB 2826 is the natural next step to increase voter participation across the state and make Arizonans’ voices heard.
Special interest groups that enjoy advancing their agendas under the radar in off-cycle elections are likely to oppose HB 2826. But the measure is a slam-dunk for Arizonans who want to give all voters a voice in elections at every level of government.
Lucy Morrow Caldwell is the external affairs manager for the Goldwater Institute.
Arizona Legislature: House Bill 2826