Tucson's city election system works pretty well

Our view: Voters have declined to change primary, general election setup
2011-11-26T00:00:00Z Tucson's city election system works pretty well Arizona Daily Star
November 26, 2011 12:00 am

The news that Democrats Paul Cunningham and Shirley Scott were re-elected to the City Council even though they lost the vote inside their wards is interesting but hardly proof that Tucson's method of choosing City Council members is broken.

Tucson's charter says candidates run exclusively in their ward during the primary but citywide in the general election.

The idea is that ward voters will screen primary candidates, to advance those they believe will represent the ward's interests. But at general election time, candidates must prove that they'll also look out for the entire city, not just parochial neighborhood needs.

There are pros and cons to Tucson's method, but voters have the power to change it and they haven't chosen to do so.

The outcome in the Cunningham and Scott races is hardly new; it's happened dozens of times over the years.

Nor is it proof that Democrats, with their longtime heavy voter registration advantage citywide, will thwart the will of voters in wards with more Republicans.

Back in 2001, Republicans Fred Ronstadt and Kathleen Dunbar were elected even though they lost in their heavily Democratic wards. In fact, it was the second time Ronstadt lost in midtown Ward 6 but won citywide.

"We're not pandering to one group instead of the other," Ronstadt told the Star back then. "The system makes sure the decisions we make are based on what's best for all of Tucson."

That's similar to the argument of the current Ward 6 councilman, Steve Kozachik. He's also a Republican who also lost inside his ward in 2009.

"There are precious few issues we deal with that impact only a single ward," Kozachik told reporter Rhonda Bodfield, noting water, transit, parks, zoning and public safety issues affect the entire city.

It's certainly debatable whether the city's system is wise or fair. The same could be said of the way each state is awarded two U.S. Senate seats. California, with a population of 37 million, has the same power as North Dakota, population 672,000. Or consider the method for selecting trial-court judges in Arizona. Voters elect them in every county except Pima and Maricopa, where a citizen commission chooses nominees and the governor has the final say.

In the end, we believe voters should have considerable discretion is deciding the structure of government. That may not be what happens in Tucson, though. The state Supreme Court recently agreed to consider a challenge to Tucson's ward-primary, citywide general election system, as well as the partisan nature of Tucson elections. (We're the only city in the state that has partisan races.)

For better or worse, Tucsonans chose this system, and it's a decision best kept local.

Arizona Daily Star

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