Mesa ponders ballot requirement for future mayoral candidates - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa ponders ballot requirement for future mayoral candidates

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Posted: Sunday, February 26, 2012 8:27 am | Updated: 4:39 pm, Wed Feb 29, 2012.

A change in Arizona election law has triggered Mesa to consider making it a little easier — or a lot harder — for its residents to run for mayor in the future.

The issue revolves around the number of signatures required to get on the ballot, which is 5 percent of ballots cast in the last mayoral election. That number has historically been low, with 2,428 signatures required based on the May 2008 election.

But the city’s mayoral elections have shifted to the fall, when voter turnout is more than three times as high as spring elections. That would boost the requirement to more than 8,000 signatures.

Arizona law lets the city do away with the 5 percent requirement and adopt a flat 1,000-signature threshold instead.

Mesa’s City Council is scheduled to vote on the standard Monday. Councilwoman Dina Higgins said a city of Mesa’s size should require more than 1,000 signatures.

“I’m not in favor of lowering the signature requirement,” she said.

For Higgins to qualify for her northeast council district, she is required to gather 644 signatures.

Mayor Scott Smith said future mayoral candidates would be forced to hire signature gatherers to collect more than 8,000 signatures.

“That’s a burden that keeps people from running and I don’t like putting burdens on people running,” Smith said. “I would prefer it to be easier for people to run.”

He pointed to the much larger city of Phoenix, which requires 1,500 signatures for mayoral candidates to appear on the ballot.

Smith noted he’s not affected regardless of the how the issue is decided. He is running for a second term this fall, but the change would take effect for the 2016 election. Mesa’s mayors are limited to two terms.

Mesa’s election dates changed as a result of a law adopted by the Legislature in 2009. Communities with 175,000 or more residents must hold elections in the fall, with a primary in August and the general in November.

To appear on the ballot under state law, a candidate must gather 1,000 signatures or 5 percent of turnout in the previous election for that office, whichever is less.

Mesa had 48,550 ballots cast in the 2008 mayoral election. Smith estimated the higher interest in presidential elections will boost that to as many as 170,000 ballots cast in November 2012.

The signature requirement is for citywide offices. The city’s six council districts retain existing requirements, which are based on turnout from the previous election for each district. Those numbers range from 137 to 655 signatures.

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