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New proposition to allow primaries act as general elections

Tempe residents will vote May 15 on a proposition that would allow primaries to act as general elections when there are only two candidates.

Proposition 439 makes elections exempt from going on to a general if there are less than seven candidates running for city council or less than three candidates for mayor during the primary.

If the proposed amendment had been in effect during the past six Tempe elections, three of those elections would not have required a primary, City Clerk Brigitta Kuiper wrote in a report to the Tempe City Council Nov. 17.

Tempe’s voting procedure currently requires candidates who receive less than 51 percent of votes to continue campaigning for a general election, Councilmember Onnie Shekerjian said.

“It’s repetitive and it’s inefficient,” Shekerjian said.

The amendment would be more cost efficient and encourage more people to participate in elections, Shekerjian said.

“It allows the city to save money, but more importantly, it allows more people to get into running for these seats,” Shekerjian said.

Shekerjian proposed the change during a city council meeting on May 6, 2011. She had wanted to propose choice-rank voting, in which voters would rank candidates from most preferred to least, she said.

However, Proposition 439 would be a less drastic change than choice-rank voting while still incorporating some of its elements, Shekerjian said.

“The current system we have in place benefits people who can raise more money,” Shekerjian said.

During the last election, Shekerjian spent $25,000 of her own money on the primary election, she said.

When she first ran for city council, she had to participate in the general election and benefitted from the extra time to advertise herself, but also spent $40,000, she said.

“There are a lot of citizens who don’t get involved in city council because they just can’t afford it,” Shekerjian said.

Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman supports the proposition, saying the option of eliminating an election would save time for residents, money for the city and both for candidates.

“Running for office is very expensive,” Hallman said.

His first run for Tempe City Council cost him $35,000 and the incumbents each outspent him by $10,000, Hallman said.

“It’s already been whittled down,” Hallman said of elections between two candidates. “There is no reason to have another election.”

Councilmember Joel Navarro recognizes the proposition’s strengths but is concerned about voters losing some of the democratic freedom allowed by two elections.

“You lose the possibility to say, ‘I want a run off between these two candidates,’” Navarro said.

Scottsdale, Flagstaff and Winslow have voting procedures similar to the one proposed by Proposition 439.

Flagstaff and Winslow replaced primary elections with general elections in the 1950s. Scottsdale passed its amendment in 2010.

In July 2010, Maricopa County Election Department fees increased, making it more expensive for cities to have elections.

Election fees that cities must pay the MCED went up to $1.37 per voter, a dollar increase from the year before.

Tempe currently spends up to $250,000 each election year, according to the city clerk’s analysis.

This cost could be eliminated, Shekerjian said.

On Jan. 5, the city council voted 6-1 to put the proposition on the general election ballot. Councilmember and mayoral candidate Mark Mitchell was the sole dissenter. If approved, the amendment will go into effect for elections in 2014.


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