Submitted Press for Publication

This article was submitted to the Tucson Citizen Editorial Department. It expresses concern over the proposed "Mail-Only" election system proposed for study and set to be put on the 2006 ballot. It would send ballots to all voters and then require them to return theballots via US Post.

Mail-Only System Flawed

Tucson’s dismal record regarding city elections is a subject that Tucson’s City Council and I can agree on. It seems that all of us would like to see the historic trend of under representation ended. How to end this trend is where we have some disagreement.

Generally, the city electorate votes in levels of 20-45% depending on initiatives and whether a mayor is running or just council. Yet voters in the city will turn out in ranges of 70% and above when voting in elections for President and Governor.

In response to this trend our City Council just voted to study a mail-only system of voting as an incentive to bring voters to the polls for local elections. The proposal seems to ignore the indication that voters in Tucson aren’t tending to vote in city elections because they don’t see them as relevant.

Put simply, Tucsonans vote, but they just don’t tend to vote in City elections.

A mail-only voting system, I believe, is a band-aid approach to the city’s election relevancy and does nothing that can’t already be done under our current system. Additionally, it gives enormous power to political parties who don’t fall under the regulation of the “Do Not Call List”. Other large organizations that have the cash to entice voter turnout will have increased power to get their vote out when they can verify it. Then there’s also the increased chance of fraud in such a system.

My main objection, though, is that it denies me the traditional right to go to the polls on Election Day as the dust of the political season is settling. My parents taught me the value of this patriotic duty by taking me to the polls to cast a ballot with my community. I am teaching my children in this same traditional manner. A few polling places scattered around the city mock this by assuming that it is based simply on a need to put a ballot in a box, any box. This ritual may seem unimportant to those in power, but it’s not unimportant to many voters who put them in office.

Let us assume that this mail-only idea is altruistic and actually intended to bring democracy to city elections. So we should decide to use democracy to better democracy in the City of Tucson. Put the proposal in for the next city election. Not in 2006, but 2007, as that is the time selected to concentrate on city matters and it eliminates that sticky subject of the mayoral aspirations of some on the Council.

Additionally, Ward-Only voting was a valid proposal during the last election cycle. Removing the at-large council election system brings us a more representative democracy and has proven to increase voter turnout in jurisdictions were the practice was removed under the Voting Rights Act. One voter-one vote is the way American democracy works in my neighborhood association, legislative district and congressional district. Why not my council ward?

Tucson Ward-Only did not get the required 11,615 signatures for the election of 2005 due to time and management issues. We won’t be making those mistakes again, but the City Council could make our jobs easier with a simple vote to put the measure, as we’ve written it, on the ballot. Then we could all work together to bring a better democracy to the City of Tucson.

While they’re at it, they could add to the cost savings that they want by eliminating the city run primary and inserting an Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) system of ranked voting that could bring in untold numbers of voters that have previously been left out of our election system. The system would also eliminate spoiler candidates and allow voters to express their conscience and still have a voice in the final majority.

If we build a more fair election system the voters will come. I believe that a mail-only system is folly. Many on the council believe the same regarding the efforts of Tucson Ward-Only. The key is whether we have the courage to put these non-competing systems on the ballot for 2007. Let’s let the people of Tucson decide.

Jim Sinex, FairElect - Tucson