Mesa Recall Election Not Likely to Lead to Changes in Law

November 10, 2011

Jerry Lewis won last week’s recall election against Russell Pearce in Mesa’s legislative district 18.  But there were three people on the ballot, of whom was accused of being a sham candidate.  And, now that the election is over, there are questions about what, if anything, lawmakers might do in response.  KJZZ’s Mark Brodie reports.

Mike Wright thinks there oughtta be a law.  The Mesa attorney was part of the legal effort to get Olivia Cortes off the ballot, wants state lawmakers to prevent similar situations from happening in the future.

"We should place on the candidate the responsibility for what is done by those who put that candidate on the ballot."

Cortes ended up winning a little more than one percent of the vote.  But that was after she withdrew from the race amid allegations that Pearce supporters encouraged her to run, to siphon votes away from Jerry Lewis.    And, while the entire story of her candidacy has not yet come out, Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell says it’s up to voters to do their homework before filling out their ballots.

"The voters must inform themselves in order not to be confused…there is, I’m sure, the strong possibility that there are things out there that may be orchestrated to confuse the voter…we would like to see that not happen, but I don’t know that it’s illegal."

Purcell says she doesn’t think there’s much the state can…or should…do to stop people from getting on the ballot, saying it’s a matter of free speech.  David Berman agrees.  He’s a Senior Research Fellow at the Morrison Institute at ASU.

"The only thing you can really do is hope like hell that people are paying attention and can straighten these things out…and they have the information available for them to do it."

But Berman thinks he might have a way to discourage this sort of thing in the future.  He’s advocating a top two run-off, where all of the candidates run against each other, rather than in partisan primaries.  The top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, would then face off in the general election, with the top vote getter declared the winner.  That’s essentially how Phoenix runs its elections, and voters statewide could decide next year whether or not to expand it.

"So if you had, changed the law, to have a run-off between the top 2 vote-getters, I think you would discourage people putting a 3rd party candidate in there for, just to divert votes away from 1 candidate."

Berman says it’s getting more difficult for voters to sift through all of the information about candidates, campaigns or issues.  And, Helen Purcell says one change lawmakers might make next year is to move up the dates on which campaign finance reports are filed.

"If you’re going all the way through a campaign and you don’t see anything about who’s funding that campaign or around it, until you get very, very close to the election, I think that could be a problem…particularly now that so many people vote early."

Purcell says her office, and others around the state, look at what changes might need to be made after each election.  She says that usually just means clarifying existing law.  And while she expects some momentum to make more substantive changes based on the Mesa recall election, those proposals are not likely to come from her office.  But Mike Wright, one of the attorneys in the Olivia Cortes case, wants lawmakers to look specifically at what happened in district 18.

"Well, a statute that would specifically address the diversionary candidate…and election funding, campaign funding laws should be more definitive…in other words, there should be a law that prohibits someone from funding a campaign without it being made public at the time of the funding."

Observers and voters in Mesa have said backlash from Olivia Cortes’ candidacy might have hurt Russell Pearce in the recall election.  And, the Morrison Institute’s David Berman says that might be the best way to discourage so-called sham candidates in future elections.

 

 

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