Suzanne Sharer, Bob Robson, Dan Hawker, Jennifer Jermaine, Mitzi Epstein and Sean Bowie

Candidates for LD18 debated virtually for the Arizona Clean Elections Commission in late August. They are, clockwise from top left, Suzanne Sharer, Bob Robson, Dan Hawker, Jennifer Jermaine, Mitzi Epstein and Sean Bowie.

Early voting begins today, Oct. 7 as mail-in ballots go out to voters and a pandemic-hobbled Campaign 2020 heads to the finish line.

Beyond the high-profile races for President and a U.S. Senate seat in Arizona, Ahwatukee voters will be wading through a lengthy ballot that includes judges, county offices, initiatives on an education tax and recreational marijuana – and two school boards and their three representatives in the Legislature.

Ahwatukee voters who want to cast ballots in person have only seven places to do so before Oct. 22, when more polling places open. 

Pecos Community Center remains closed and won’t accommodate voters at all this year.

On Oct. 22, Ahwatukee voters will be able to cast ballots at Horizon Presbyterian Church at 1401 E. Liberty Lane and on Nov. 2 at Living Word Bible Church at 14647 S. 50th St.

But it’s possible many of Ahwatukee’s 59526 registered voters – the official total as of Thursday, Oct. 8 – will be popping their ballots in the mail: 48,224 are on the permanent early voter list, according to the County Recorder.

Since the Aug. 4 Primary Election, newly registered voters in Ahwatukee have further narrowed the gap between registered Democrats and Republicans. 

The most recent data show there are 19,859 registered Republicans in Ahwatukee and 19,626 registered Democrats. Voters not affiliated with either party total 18500.

In Legislative District 18, which includes Ahwatukee and parts of Chandler, Mesa and Tempe, Democrats hold the registration lead.

That could be good news for the all-Democratic LD18 delegation that includes Sen. Sean Bowie and state Reps. Mitzi Epstein and Jennifer Jermaine. Both Bowie and Epstein are seeking a third term and Jermaine her second.

According to the latest data, LD18 counts 56,013 Democrats, 51,760 Republicans and 50,582 independents among the 169,023 people registered to vote there.

Taking on the LD18 delegation are Republican Senate candidate Suzanne Sharer of Ahwatukee and House GOP candidates Bob Robson and Don Hawker.

Hawker, a retired computer programmer for the federal government who lives in Tempe, got a spot on the ballot after winning a write-in bid in the primary.

Robson, of Ahwatukee, is hoping to return to the House, where he served from 2001 to 2009 and from 2011 to 2017.

Sharer, an Ahwatukee resident and Realtor, is making her first foray into electoral politics, although she is no stranger to the political scene. She was appointed two years ago to the Ahwatukee Village Planning Committee by fellow Republican city Councilman Sal DiCiccio.

She is taking on an incumbent whose campaign war chest dwarfed hers as the fall campaign began in earnest in August and one who also has picked up the endorsements of more than two dozen business, law enforcement, education, labor and other organizations. 

Campaign finance reports for the third quarter are not due until Oct. 15.

Besides Legislature, Ahwatukee voters also will be deciding who fills three seats on the Tempe Union High School and Kyrene governing boards.

Michelle Fahy of Tempe is the only incumbent among the five candidates seeking one of three seats on the Kyrene board. Board President Michael Myrick opted to run for a seat on the Tempe Union Board and John King decided to retire. 

Also running for a spot on the Kyrene board are Ivan Alfaro, an education consultant; Wanda Kolomyjec, an Arizona State University professor; Trine´ Nelson, a curriculum manager; and Margaret Wright, an adjunct biology professor.

In the Tempe Union race, incumbent board President Berdetta Hodge and member Sandy Lowe are hoping to hang on for another four-year term in the face of six challengers that include 2019 Desert Vista High School graduate Armando Montero, now an ASU student.

Other candidates in the Tempe Union race include Realtor Lori Bastian, Ahwatukee attorney Don Fletcher and teachers Sarah Lindsay James and Paige Reesor.

There’s also a third governing board race awaiting voters as longtime Ahwatukee resident and educator Dr. Linda Thor sees another term on the Maricopa County Community College District board.

Voters also will be voting for Phoenix mayor as incumbent Kate Gallego appears to be on cruise control to reelection to her first full four-year term. 

Gallego is facing Republican Merissa Hamilton, who ran as a Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate in 2016, and Tim Seay, who describes himself as president and CEO of several nonprofits and was recently reelected Most Honorable Grand Master of The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge Free & Accepted Masons of Arizona.

In other partisan elections, voters will be making choices for all major county offices, including Recorder, Attorney and Assessor.

Most Ahwatukee voters also will be deciding a race for their representative on the Board of Supervisors between incumbent Republican Jack Sellers of Chandler and Democrat Jevin Hodge, the son of the Tempe Union board president.

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.

Proposition 208, or the Invest in Education Act, would impose a tax on part of the income of high earners to help pay for teachers 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.

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. 

To accommodate the anticipated uptick of voters, county elections 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.

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