The Voting Rights Project filed suit in December 2013 in Arizona Superior Court challenging the method used for electing the Governing Board of the Maricopa County Community College District. In 2010, the Arizona Legislature enacted H.B. 2261 requiring that two at-large seats be added to the Governing Board, increasing the size of the Board from five to seven. The pre-existing five members of the Board were elected from single-member districts. As a result, H.B. 2261 established a new method of election consisting of five members elected from single-member districts and two elected at large.
The plaintiffs in the case were Arizona State Senator Steve Gallardo, State Representative Martin Quezada, Maricopa County Community College Governing Board Member Randolph Lumm, Lydia Guzman, Marcus Lara, and Rose Marie Duran Lopez. Attorneys with the Phoenix office of Perkins Coie LLP served as pro bono co-counsel in the case.
The lawsuit alleged that H.B. 2261 violates the Arizona State Constitution because the statute effectively only applies to – and thus singles out – the Maricopa County District, and does not apply to any of the other community college districts in the state. By its terms, H.B. 2261 only affects community college districts located in counties with at least three million residents. Currently, Maricopa County is the one such county in the state, and no other Arizona county has the potential to reach three million residents for decades. The suit alleged that H.B. 2261 violates the state Constitution’s prohibition against local or special laws and the Constitution’s privileges and immunities clause.
When H.B. 2261 was enacted, Arizona was required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to obtain preclearance for its voting changes. The State submitted this legislation to the U.S. Department of Justice for review, and DOJ responded by sending a written request for additional information noting concerns as to whether the addition of two at-large seats would discriminate against the District’s minority residents. Instead of providing the requested information, the State set the legislation aside and did not seek to implement it. However, as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in June 2013 in Shelby County v. Holder, Arizona no longer is covered by Section 5 and thus no needs federal preclearance to implement H.B. 2261. As a result, after Shelby County was decided, local election officials began preparations to fill the two new at-large seats in the November 2014 election.
Shortly after suit was filed, the constitutionality of H.B. 2261 was presented to the Arizona superior court for decision and, on March 27, 2014, the court ruled in favor of the defendants. Plaintiffs appealed and on April 23, 2014, one day after oral argument, the Arizona Court of Appeals held that H.B. 2261 is a special law that violates the Arizona Constitution. Defendants then appealed and, on August 26, 2014, the Arizona Supreme Court issued a minute order vacating the ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals.
In the November 2014 election, the two new at-large seats were filled. A Hispanic candidate ran but finished third, and thus was defeated.
Click here to view the Complaint.