A proposal for voting in the March 2020 Tempe election: Don’t vote

For many years, Tempe has chosen to elect its sole branch of government on dates when turn-out is likely to be low. The main advantage of this may be to make it easier for candidates representing special interests — such as beneficiaries of any city program– to win. In the last ten years, the average number of ballots cast in mayor/city council elections is about 20,000. Over the same period, November elections (which are normally about amendments to the city charter and bond issues) average about 55,000 votes cast. (There are about 85,000 registered voters in Tempe.) Mark Mitchell was last elected mayor with just over 15,000 votes, and Lauren Kuby was last elected to the city council with less than 13,000 votes. All these results can be seen here.

The state legislature tried to stop this in 2012 with a law (ARS 16-204) requiring charter cities (Tempe was not the only abuser) to hold their elections in even-numbered years in November at the same time as state-wide elections. Tucson successfully challenged this law at the Arizona Court of Appeals in 2014, arguing that the law violated the home rule provisions of the state constitution. (Opinion here.)

The legislature accordingly amended the law (which is now ARS 16-204.01). The amended text is here. The amended law imposes a test: if the turnout in an off-cycle election is less than 75% of the turnout in November elections, the city must start holding their elections in November. If past elections are any guide, Tempe will easily fail that test in March but I will seriously consider not adding my ballot to the count. The obstacles to any conservative are formidable. He or she must advocate dismantling programs that cost everyone a little but provide benefits to a motivated few. Many of the programs are funded by grants, so the cost is even more diffuse, falling on Tempe voters only via their state and federal income tax obligations. It would, though, be harder to assemble a majority of 55,000 from the beneficiaries of city programs than a majority of 20,000.

Who might one vote for, anyway? All of the candidates in the December 13 Forum competed with each other to promise yet more city programs: affordable housing, sustainability, and human services. You might wish to attend the Candidates Forum on February 3. (5:30pm at the Arizona Community Church 9325 S Rural Rd.)