A state law forcing cities to hold their elections in conjunction with state balloting will do little to bring more people to the polls and only succeed in stripping away local control, Phoenix assistant attorney Sandra Hunter told Pima County Superior Court Judge James Marner Thursday.
Hunter's assertion came in opening statements in a suit by Tucson and Phoenix to void the law approved by the Legislature last year.
Both cities hold their own elections in odd-numbered years. But state lawmakers said requiring all governments to hold their elections at the same time, in even-numbered years, would save money and increase voter turnout.
Increased turnout "is tied to other election methods," Hunter said. "All this does is tie local election dates to the state's election dates."
But the state's attorney said the law doesn't dictate to cities how a city conducts its elections, just when.
"Moving the date imposes little to no burdens on cities," said Arizona Assistant Attorney General Diana Rasner.
Rasner said the state has a right to intercede because democracy is predicated on honest elections.
"The best way to protect the integrity of elections is increasing (voter) turnout," she said. And the evidence will show every time a city aligns its elections with the state's, turnout has "skyrocketed."
Tucson City Clerk Roger Randolph, the first witness to take the stand, testified consolidated elections balloon the size of ballots and push local issues to the bottom where they're likely to be overlooked - a prime reason the cities want to keep their elections separate.
For example, he said, the 2012 city road bond proposition was "highly controversial" but tucked at the bottom of a long ballot, below federal, state and county races, and 27,000 city voters, out of 171,000 who went to the polls, did not vote on it.
He compared it with the presidential election at the top of the ticket where 385,000 Pima County voters participated overall in the election, with only 2,000 not casting a vote for that office.
Randolph said the lower down the ballot an issue or race is, the less likely local voters will participate.
But Rasner said those figures didn't reflect the entire story. She pointed to the last Tucson mayoral election where about 85,000 voters participated. Even though the city races and propositions occupied a prominent place on the ballot, the 2011 election turnout was less than half the city turnout for the presidential election, Rasner said.
And although 27,000 people didn't vote in the bond election, there were still 59,000 more people who cast a vote for a bottom-of-the-ballot bond measure than turned out for the entire previous city election.
The trial continues today.
Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or firstname.lastname@example.org