CRONKITE NEWS

Democrats go to court to gain top listing on Arizona ballots

Dec 12, 2019, 4:05 AM

(Photo by Mara Friedman/Cronkite News)...

(Photo by Mara Friedman/Cronkite News)

(Photo by Mara Friedman/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Democrats allege the design of Arizona ballots puts their candidates at an unconstitutional disadvantage, according to a lawsuit filed last month against Arizona’s Secretary of State.

The suit takes issue with ballots in partisan races that routinely list Republican candidates before Democrats, and it recommends rotating ballot order to ensure no candidate has an advantage.

Arizona law dictates that each county’s ballot order be determined according to the votes cast for governor in that county in the most recent general election. Candidates from the party of the gubernatorial candidate with the most votes are listed first, followed by candidates from other parties. This applies to all partisan races, including for president, Congress and many state races.

Under the law, the ballot typically is led by a party that has been dominant in recent years in Arizona, said Dave Wells, a political science professor at Arizona State University.

“Republicans typically win most of the counties,” Wells said. “That would mean that Republican candidates get privilege.”

According to the lawsuit, filed Nov. 1 in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, Republican candidates will be listed before Democrats in 11 of 15 Arizona counties in the 2020 general election. This includes Maricopa County, where Gov. Doug Ducey outpolled his Democratic rival, David Garcia, by more than 200,000 votes in 2018.

Wells said ballot order may affect third-party voters even more than Democrats.

“Independent voters would be the most strongly impacted by the ballot order,” he said. “They (voters) look at it, and they’re going to see whoever’s first on the ballot. And that’s just the way our brain works.”

The lawsuit – filed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Democratic National Committee, Priorities USA in Arizona and two Arizona residents – claims a political phenomenon called “position bias” affords electoral benefits to candidates listed first. Similar suits were filed in Georgia, Texas and Minnesota.

The Democratic groups hope courts find Arizona’s ballot order statute unconstitutional. The plaintiffs recommend alternating the order of candidate names based on precinct, ensuring each candidate is listed first on a proportional number of ballots. Arizona randomizes ballot order in primary elections to avoid preferential placement, but general elections are not randomized.

The lawsuit points out that ballot order is especially important in the 2020 general elections, where “Arizona is projected to have numerous highly competitive races,” including Mark Kelly’s bid to oust Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz.

Democratic lawsuits also target Texas and Georgia – also considered battleground states next November. And Minnesota voters filed suit Nov. 27 alongside the Democratic Senatorial and Congressional Campaign committees, claiming unfair bias in ballot order.

On Nov. 15, Florida Democrats won their ballot order lawsuit, and a court overturned the state’s law allowing the party that holds the governor’s office to list its candidates first on general election ballots. The lawsuit claimed this law favored the Republican Party, which has held Florida’s governorship since 1999.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., the chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the victory in Florida will help states facing similar ballot problems.

“No candidate or party should benefit from an unfair advantage in our elections, and we will take every step available to correct these unconstitutional mandates,” she said. “Voters should have faith that elections are fairly administered without bias, and that applies to the ballots they cast.”

The Republican Party of Arizona issued a statement via communications director Zach Henry, dismissing the lawsuit.

“Rather than working to ratify the USMCA or lower prescription drug costs, Democrats are preoccupied with political trivia,” Henry said, referring to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade. “The order on the ballot isn’t the Democrats’ problem – it’s how out of touch they are with the issues Arizonans care about.”

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes said his office hasn’t seen significant evidence of a problem with the ballot order.

“Specifically, as to which candidates get listed first, we rarely hear any of those complaints,” Fontes said. “But we’re always looking at ballot design improvements.”

Regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, Arizona general election ballots are getting updated.

“The most notable change in the new ballot design is going to be the absence of the arrows,” Fontes said. “They’ll be replaced by ovals where you fill in your choices.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Cronkite News

Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, testifies to the House Judiciary Committee during an emotional –...

Reagan Priest /Cronkite News

Civility in state government is rare but Arizona’s House Commerce Committee stands out

The Arizona House Commerce Committee is bucking the trend of combative American politics and is gaining a reputation for its civil discourse.

1 month ago

Jose “ET” Rivera, owner of Tres Leches Cafe, speaks during a rally against an Arizona immigrati...

Martin Dreyfuss/Cronkite News

Arizona business owners rally against bill requiring E-Verify checks for jobs, benefits

Arizona business owners rallied Monday against an immigration bill they say will drive businesses and workers out of the state.

2 months ago

The annual Strategic School Staffing Summit, run by Arizona State University's Mary Lou Fulton Teac...

Analisa Valdez/Cronkite News

Arizona public schools struggle to fill teaching positions as leaders brainstorm school staffing solutions

Public school educators say they are some of the most underpaid and overworked laborers, and many are quitting or leaving the profession.

2 months ago

U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, backed by fellow Democrats, speaks at in Washington, D....

Ian McKinney/Cronkite News

As immigration debate heats up, December migrant encounters set record

Border officials said they encountered more than 300,000 migrants at the southern border in December, setting a one-month record.

2 months ago

The 51st March for Life begins to move from a rally and speeches on the National Mall to its annual...

Ian McKinney/Cronkite News

Roe is gone, but Arizonans still join abortion opponents marching in D.C.

For Tucson resident Jacob Mauer, joining the National March for Life in Washington was a “bucket-list moment."

3 months ago

Dominican immigrant Rosa Flores at the Disnalda Beauty Salon she bought in Providence, Rhode Island...

Tim Henderson/Stateline

Arizona among states where Hispanic families are surging into middle class

The Hispanic middle class has grown faster than the white middle class in the past decade and has reached near-parity in Arizona.

4 months ago

Sponsored Articles

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

Democrats go to court to gain top listing on Arizona ballots