While the write-in candidate scam to limit voting in two contentious races on the August ballot is being hotly debated, another question should be asked.

 

Why are those two offices — state attorney and public defender — partisan to begin with?

Unlike many offices, such as legislative seats, these two require professional backgrounds.

The legal system is neither Republican nor Democratic.

That is recognized for the other main cogs in that system — judges — who run in nonpartisan races, giving all voters regardless of party a voice.

Political parties who put power above good government would fight tooth and nail against changing the current system.

But the reality is party primaries can deny a lot of voters a chance to participate in elections.

Through the early 1990s, Democrats were in control locally and in the 4th Judicial Circuit, and it was Republicans who were cut out.

Now with Republicans firmly entrenched in power, it’s the Democrats who are left outside.

That’s especially true when the cheap trick of having a write-in candidate qualify to close a primary to Republican voters only is used, which is the case in both the state attorney and public defender races.

Voters thought they had cured that lack of voter access in 1998 when a constitutional amendment was approved that said when races like these have only members of one party running, all voters should be able to participate.

But then party schemers on both sides of the aisle came up with and have used the faux write-in candidate ploy.

By having a write-in candidate qualify for the General Election in November, represented by only a blank line on the ballot, all voters will have a choice.

At least that’s the argument, and it’s absurd.

There is a better way, and Jacksonville provides a good example.

In 1988, Jacksonville Community Council Inc. released a study entitled “Local Elections Process.”

Democrats were the dominant party at the time, and turnouts for municipal elections were miserably low.

The study’s recommendations languished until after the 1991 mayoral election.

There were only two candidates in that race — Tommy Hazouri and Ed Austin — both Democrats.

The April primary decided who won, and only Democrats were able to vote.

With no contested mayoral race on the May ballot, only 20 percent of the registered voters went to the polls.

That prompted a deeper debate about what the JCCI study had found.

JCCI had recommended changing to a system patterned after one used in Louisiana.

Instead of a party primary, all candidates for mayor as well as candidates for City Council would appear on the First Election ballot with their party designation.

But all voters would be able to participate. If no candidate won outright, the two top voter getters, without regard to party, would face each other in the General Election.

Even though it could hurt his party’s dominance, City Councilman Harry Reagan, a Democrat, led the council effort to put the proposal on the November 1992 ballot, and the referendum was approved overwhelmingly with 73 percent of the vote.

During the next municipal elections in 1995, all voters could participate in the First Election, and they had three Democrats and three Republicans to choose from.

Turnout for that April 1995 election was 50.6 percent, and it was 46.2 percent in the May election when John Delaney edged Jake Godbold to take the Mayor’s Office.

It’s a good system that produces competitive races and better turnouts, and it gives every voter who wants to vote a chance to do so.

As it is now, 440,000 voters living in Duval, Nassau and Clay counties won’t have a voice in electing the next state attorney and public defender.

That’s wrong.

ron.littlepage@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4284