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VOL. 7 | NO. 32 | Saturday, August 2, 2014

Editorial: Overloaded Ballot Muddies Process

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This election year marks 40 years since a political watershed.

In the August 1974 “big ballot” elections, voters approved the restructuring of Shelby County government that created the office of county mayor.

Democratic primary voters nominated three Ford brothers for Congress, the state House and the state Senate – Harold, John and Emmitt Ford, respectively, would all win in the November general elections.

Hugh Stanton Jr. beat Odell Horton in the county general election race for district attorney general and Roy Nixon beat Eddie Bond in the sheriff’s race.

And all of that happened with less than half of the county’s voters showing up at the polls – a 43 percent turnout.

Since then turnout for the “big ballot” election cycle has gone lower as a percentage.

But the need remains for a mixture of change and affirmation from voters.

Judicial incumbents preach the value of experience. Their challengers make the case for change.

Both will work fervently toward the raw name recognition that allows voters to ignore the office and just find a familiar name.

If that’s the best we can get in terms of what the candidates have to say, it becomes up to us to attempt to weave together some kind of political fabric beyond the usual appeal to vote an easy and straight party ticket as a default position. The longer the ballot, the more confusing and the more likely you will respond to the siren call of name recognition.

We think there is a way to calm the clamor somewhat. There is plenty of room for some of these offices, notably the judicial races, on the second county election cycle whose next appearance will be in two years.

Staggering the judicial terms of office might make for some more informed voting if not better campaigns.

We also suggest something even more unlikely to happen – that the leaders of both local political parties take a serious look at the 20-plus years of partisan primaries we have had for county government offices and re-evaluate whether the primaries have delivered on more accountable leadership.

We think in too many cases they have created a low turnout diversion that keeps candidates with nothing to offer alive politically beyond their expiration date.

We think there is accountable leadership but too often that leadership is required to pull along pretenders on both sides of the partisan divide who can only win 10 percent turnout primaries but make enough noise in the general election that they cause any casual onlooker to question the motives of them and everyone else playing the game that is our local politics.

Our advice is pick races where you think you can begin to make a difference and leave the rest with a resolve to get to them another time.

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