Big Win for Taxpayers: Consolidated Elections Bill Approved by the Legislature

This session the Free Enterprise Club has been urging for the passage of HB 2495, legislation requiring that all local elections involving a sales tax increase be held in November of even-numbered years.

The bill passed the House 31-27 but ran into trouble in the Senate, dying in the Judiciary committee by a narrow 3-4 vote. However, in the waning days of session the bill was resurrected by fiscal conservatives in the House and Senate and was approved by the legislature late Tuesday afternoon. The bill is now headed to the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature.

This is a huge victory for taxpayers as consolidated elections saves money, increases voter participation and ends the practice of cities and counties intentionally putting tax hikes on the ballot in low turnout elections to improve their chance of passage.

The evidence already exists that consolidating election dates is a very popular reform. In 2012, the legislature passed HB2826, requiring municipalities to hold candidate elections on the same dates as statewide elections. The increase in voter turnout was immediate:

  • In the three election cycles prior to candidate election consolidation, voter turnout in Maricopa County never exceeded 26%, with average turnout around 20%.
  • After consolidation in 2014 and 2016, Maricopa County turnout was never below 26% and was as high as 74% in the most recent election.

Increased voter turnout is one benefit of reform.  Consolidated elections save taxpayers money.  When cities hold elections on non-consolidated dates, taxpayers incur significant additional expenses in printing, voter education, notifications, facilities and postage.  The City of Scottsdale consolidated their election in 2008 and the benefits were immediate.  In addition to the much higher voter turnout in the 2010 election, the city saved residents $110,000.

Opponents to reform (local government and various special interests) cite the same arguments against consolidation that they have used for years. Moving elections mean local issues will compete for time, attention, resources, and ballot real estate with state and national races and matters.  That somehow voters are better served when they can study these issues in isolation and are not “fatigued” by a long ballot, perhaps abandoning the “local issues” at the bottom of the ballot.

They also used the bizarre claim that consolidated elections would imperil local government if there is an emergency and a new tax hike needed.  Aside from the general absurdity of an “emergency tax,” cities already have the authority to pass a tax increase without voter approval by a majority vote of their elected body.  Mayors and Councilmembers, if they truly believe a tax increase is necessary, are free to vote for one, devoid of the political cover of “the will of the voters.”

Consolidated elections have been studied by historians, scholars and policymakers across the political and ideological spectrum, all reaching the same conclusion.  Off-cycle elections in practice (and by design) reduce voter turnout and benefit organized special interest groups.  No matter the political bent, organizations who stand to benefit most, are strategically served by low voter turnout.  Organized groups are more likely to know about an off-cycle election that enriches themselves and their turnout has a much greater general impact on the overall election.

Consolidated elections have proven time and again to increase voter turnout, reduce costs and provides predictability and consistency to voters.  We congratulate the legislature in passing this long overdue reform!