By Paul Maryniak, Tribune Executive Editor
Early ballots likely are — or soon will be — in the hands of many Mesa voters and it’s a good thing.
They’ll need some time to wade through a rafter of names and offices up for grabs in the Nov. 3 General Election.
Beyond the marquee race for President and the hotly contested fight for the last two years of the late U.S. Sen. John McCain’s seat, there are judges to sort through, county offices at stake, two school board races and legislative races where Republicans have a huge registration advantage. Mesa voters also are being asked to consider a $100 million bond issue by the city for road and other transportation infrastructure projects.
And if that’s not enough, there are two controversial initiatives, one that would legalize recreational marijuana and the other that would impose a surcharge on the state income taxes paid by single filers earning more than $250,000 annually and couples earning more than $500,000 a year.
The county is expecting a historic turnout. The 2008 General Election had the highest turnout at 79.76 percent and participation on record.
“We just surpassed 2.5 million registered voters, which is the highest number ever recorded in Maricopa County,” said elections spokeswoman Megan Gilbertson.
Right now, the closest place where Mesa residents can physically vote is at Dobson Palm Plaza, 2051 W. Guadalupe Road. They can drop off completed ballots at Mesa City Hall starting Oct. 19.
As the month progresses, though, more places to cast votes or drop off ballots will start opening.
To accommodate the anticipated uptick of voters, the County Recorder is expanding access through a Vote Center model where voters can choose from any voting location than at one assigned site.
The department also is adding new, drive-thru drop boxes in the parking lots of sport stadiums across the county from Oct. 24 to Nov. 3. To find sites and hours of operation, go to Locations.Maricopa.Vote.
According to officials, close to 78 percent of Maricopa County’s 2.5 million registered voters have already requested a ballot in the mail.
Before COVID-19, the county elections plan estimated about 2 million voters would cast a ballot in November with approximately 211,000–313,000 of those voters turning out in-person on Election Day.
Voters will have the choice to return their early ballot by mail by Oct. 27 or drop it off at any Vote Center or secure ballot drop box by 7 p.m. on Election Day.
Voters can find out where to vote, see what’s on their ballot, sign up to vote by mail and more by going to BeBallotReady.Vote.
Voters have until Oct. 24 to request an early ballot. Most voting centers and drop-off locations will open later this month and a full list can be found at recorder.maricopa.gov/pollingplace.
A federal judge last week extended the deadline for registering to Oct. 24, although the state Attorney General is appealing the decision and as of the Tribune’s deadline, no decision had been made by the appellate court.
On the federal front, besides the Trump-Biden and McSally-Kelly battles, there also are Congressional races.
East Mesa voters will be choosing from incumbent Congressman Andy Biggs, marketing specialist and Democrat Joan Greene or write-in Republican candidate Karen Stephens. Most other Mesa voters will be choosing between Democratic Congressman and former Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton or Gilbert businessman Dave Giles.
There is also one statewide election as voters decide who will fill three openings on the Corporation Commission, which, among other things, oversees electricity rates.
But that’s just the beginning of voters’ decision making. Here’s a look at what else awaits.
Citywide, Republicans and independent voters dominate Mesa. County Recorder data show there are 116,081 registered Republicans, 96,017 registered independents and 77,993 registered Democrats.
It’s no surprise, then, that the main legislative districts that include large portions of the city are red.
In LD 16, where Republicans hold a 2–1 registration edge, Kelly Townsend appears a shoe-in as she moves from the state House to the Senate, replacing David Farnsworth, who has retired.
Trying to blunt that her transition are three write-in candidates: Democrat Richard Grayson, a lawyer, who says he is in the race “for those Democrats and others who hate Trump Republicans;” and independents John Ross Hart, a retired teacher, and Dr. Nick Fierro, a physical therapist.
In the LD 16 House race, incumbent John Fillmore is seeking another term alongside newcomer Jacqueline Parker, a lawyer who calls herself “the most conservative Republican.” Only one Democrat is running in the three-way race for two seats: community activist and former East Valley NAACP President Rev. Dr. Helen Hunter.
The solidly Republican slate in LD25 consists of Sen. Tyler Pace, who is being challenged by human resources executive Paul Weigel, and Reps. Rusty Bowers and Michelle Udall, who have only one Democratic challenger — Suzanne Hug, owner of Athoria Games in Mesa.
The other, smaller parts of Mesa are areas where Democrats control all legislative seats. LD18 Sen. Sean Bowie faces a challenge from Republican Realtor Suzanne Sharer while Reps. Mitzi Epstein and Jennifer Jermaine are facing off with former legislator Bob Robson and retired government computer programmer Don Hawker.
In LD 26, Sen. Juan Mendez faces a challenge from Jae Chin, a business owner who said he became a citizen after fleeing South Korea, where he said the government wanted to put him and his family to death. On the House side, incumbent Athena Salmon and newcomer Melody Hernandez, a paramedic, face Republicans Bill Loughrige, a former U.S. Customs agent who owns a security firm, and Seth “Marcus” Sifuentes, a Navy reservist and field engineer in the semiconductor field.
All county offices are up for grabs Nov. 3 and in race for county supervisor covering most of Mesa, incumbent Republican Steve Chucri is fending off a challenge of activist and lawyer Deedra Abboud.
Of special interest to Mesa is the race for County Assessor, which had been occupied by former Mesa resident Paul Petersen until 2018, when he was arrested in a multi-state baby adoption scheme.
Appointed earlier this year to fill out the remainder of his term was former Gilbert Councilman Eddie Cook, who is now seeking a full four-year term with Democrat Aaron Connor trying to deny him that opportunity.
MPS school board
The MPS Governing Board will be reconstituted in January since board President Elaine Miner and member Steven Peterson are not seeking another term, leaving only incumbent Kiana Maria Sears seeking reelection.
With three open seats, Sears has a lot of company: Five other candidates are in the running.
They include CPA and business executive Richard Crandall, who served on the board from 2005–08 and is the former director of education in Wyoming; Lara Ellingson, a mother of four children in Mesa schools and a former fulltime teacher and a current MPS substitute teacher; Vikki Johnson, a physician liaison for her family’s practice, Advanced Hearing Group and graduate of Mesa schools who has two children attending them; Joseph O’Reilly, director of the Arizona State University Decision Center for Educational Excellence who and retired 30-year director of MPS’s Research and Evaluation Department and Student Achievement Support; and Cara Lee Schnepf Steiner, a retired MPS teacher and elementary school principal who is department chair of Central Arizona College’s Associate of Arts in Elementary Education & Professor of Teacher Preparation Program.
The oft-overlooked Maricopa County Community College District Governing Board also offers Mesa voters a race.
Ahwatukee educator Dr. Linda Thor, the former 20-year president of Rio Salado College, is facing former Queen Creek cosmetology instructor Shelli Boggs, who has gained some notoriety for posing for photos with a semi-automatic assault rifle. Boggs also served on the governing board of the East Valley Institute of Technology.
Boggs and Thor are competing for an at-large seat on the seven-member community college board.
Weed and taxes
Votes also will decide the fate of two propositions.
The Smart and Safe Arizona Act, or Proposition 207, would legalize the possession and recreational use of marijuana for adults and impose a 16.0 percent tax on sales.
According to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, the proposition would generate an estimated annual $166 million in revenue from tax and licensing fees.
Supporters include former Gov. John Fife Symington, Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice and Arizona Dispensaries Association.
There were more groups opposed to the measure, which include Gov. Doug Ducey, the Yavapai County Attorney, the National Drug and Alcohol Screening Association, Saddle Mountain Unified School District in Litchfield Park, U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Proposition 208, or the Invest in Education Act, would impose a tax on part of the income of high earners to help pay for teacher salaries, classroom support staff salaries teacher mentoring and retention programs and other education programs.
If passed, a 3.5 percent surcharge would be added to the existing income tax of 4.5 percent for single filers earning over $250,000 a year and couples earning over $500,000 annually. Only the income over those amounts would be subject to the tax.
The Joint Legislative Committee estimated the new surcharge would generate $827 million a year.
Those that support the proposition include the Gilbert Education Association, Higley Education Association, Children’s Action Alliance, United for Education and Mesa Education Association.
Opponents include Ducey, state Treasurer Kimberly Yee, Goldwater Institute, Arizona Tax Research Association, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Greater Phoenix Chamber and Arizona Small Business Association.