Public Integrity Alliance, Inc. v. City of Tucson

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 11-10-2015
  • Case #: 15-16142
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Kozinski for the Court; Circuit Judges Tallman and Piersol
  • Full Text Opinion

Primary and general elections are “two parts of a ‘unitary’ process.” Thus, where a citizen is denied the right to vote in the primary election, that citizen’s right to vote in the general election is pointless.

Some cities elect city council members by each person voting for each city council seat in the primary and then general election. Tucson, Arizona, is divided into six wards wherein each ward has a relatively equal population. Moreover, one seat on the city council is allotted per ward. For eighty-five years, the City of Tucson used a hybrid method of voting for its city council members. Each ward holds a primary election to residents of that respective ward. Winners from this ward-specific primary election advance to the general election. In the general election, all Tucson residents vote for one council member from each of the six wards. Tucson council seats alternate appearing in elections; thus only half of the council seats are eligible to be voted on every other year – only half of Tucson residents can vote in a primary in each election cycle. The plaintiffs, Tucson voters and a nonprofit corporation, Public Integrity Alliance, Inc. (collectively PIA) alleged that Tucson’s hybrid voting system offends the federal and Arizona state constitution by denying Tucson voters their right to vote for the representatives who serve Tucson collectively. The district court ruled in favor of the city. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit resolved the issue of whether Tucson’s hybrid system for electing city council members was unconstitutional. Primary and general elections are “two parts of a ‘unitary’ process.” Thus where a citizen is denied the right to vote in the primary election, that citizen’s right to vote in the general election is pointless. Here each Tucson council member’s constituency is the city at-large rather than one ward. Thus, the panel held that where the winner of a general election will serve the city at-large, each eligible voter must have an equal opportunity to participate in both primary and general election cycles. REVERSED.

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