Maricopa County estimates the special election to replace former Rep. Trent Franks will cost $3.5 million, but the state Legislature is moving to authorize $1 million less than that.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved $2.5 million on Thursday in the first step to appropriating the cash. Sen. Judy Burges said the county can always come back for more.
That may happen, but Arizona Secretary of State spokesman Matt Roberts said the county’s taxpayers may be on the hook. Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes said he hopes Burges will follow through with a supplemental appropriation if needed.
The costs are for two elections, a primary election on Feb. 27 and the general election on April 24.
Thirteen Republicans and three Democrats filed enough signatures to make the ballot for a special primary election for Franks’ 8th Congressional District seat by the Wednesday evening deadline. Each party’s top vote-getter moves on to the general election.
Franks, an eight-term Republican lawmaker, resigned Dec. 8, saying he had discussed surrogacy with two female staffers. A former aide told The Associated Press that he pressed her to carry his child and offered her $5 million to be a surrogate.
The district covers much of the west and northwest Phoenix suburbs and is heavily Republican.
There is concern that the shortfall could affect voter outreach, but the County’s top election official is pledging not to let that happen:
Democratic state Sen. Martin Quezada, of Phoenix, said he’s worried the county will cut outreach and advertising needed to let people know about the snap election if the Legislature doesn’t provided the needed cash.
“This is a very different type of election where voters who aren’t in the know about all this as much as we are need some extra will need some extra advertising, need some extra outreach and need some extra attention in order for them to participate in this process,” he said.
Fontes, the county’s top election official, said he will not cut outreach or advertising even if money is short.
“We’re loath to make any significant cuts because this is a special election, there is a lot of interest in the body politic right now and we have no reason to believe the turnout will be high,” he said. “Informing voters is very important, we’re not going to cut that. We’re making sure we have enough places for people to vote, I don’t want to cut that.”
Despite the fact that it’s a federal office – and the vacancy occurred due to decisions (and conduct) outside Maricopa – one lawmaker believes that it’s completely fair for the County to share the costs:
Republican state Sen. Bob Worsley, of Mesa, said he was fine with the county being required to put up some of its own cash.
“I think about the equity — the district is 100 percent in Maricopa County,” he said. “Having the shortfall paid for by citizens of Maricopa County actually seems a little more fair than (using) statewide general fund tax dollars.”
I’m not sure that’s the best way to approach special election funding; indeed, it’s getting to the point where policymakers need to think about the need for some kind of reserve or “rainy day” fund for such costs given the increasing frequency with which these vacancies (and attendant costs) seem to arise.
I have no doubt that the County will make it work regardless – but it really shouldn’t have to. I’ll be curious to see where the remaining money comes from, if at all. Stay tuned …