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June 2012
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RETHINK City primary format may not be the best

We're not sure if it would take an act of the Legislature, a change to the city charter, or both to revise the primary format for election of Paducah city commissioners, but the recent mooting of the May primary in the Paducah races leaves us questioning the wisdom of the present system.

Paducah's current city commission election format calls for a primary if more than eight candidates file for the office. Voters can cast votes for four of those candidates, and the eight receiving the most votes advance to the fall general election. Voters then select four commissioners from that final field of eight.

It is not infrequent, particularly in years when there is not a mayor's race (commissioners are elected every two years; the mayor every four) that the non-partisan race fails to attract even the eight candidates necessary for a primary.

This year the race presents a little different twist. There will be a primary listed on the ballot, but the votes won't be counted. That is because candidate Lennis Thompson announced last Friday that he is withdrawing due to a change in his business obligations. The departure of Thompson, who ran fifth two years ago, dropped the number of people in the race to eight. That action, once made official, cancelled the primary.

However all of the candidates who filed for the commission race will still appear on the May 20 ballot. Deputy County Clerk Lyne Dickey explained that Thompson's departure from the race came after the ballots had already been printed. Signs will be posted in polling places noting that the race is off, and any votes that are cast will not be tallied.

We think cancellation of the primary is an unfortunate result. Of course we admit an enlightened self-interest here - local city commission primaries do generate newspaper advertising, and certainly we will miss not having that. But from a public policy perspective, we don't think it is a good thing, particularly in a non-partisan race, not to have the field vetted and thinned through the primary process.

We think a better format might be holding a primary any time the field exceeds six candidates with the field being narrowed to six for the fall election. Those six would then vie for the four commission seats in the fall vote.

That format would force candidates to work harder to get their message and qualifications across to the public in the spring, and produce a much more focused debate and vetting process in the fall.

Elections should be about making informed choices, and it strikes us that this format would do a much better job of allowing that than the existing process.

As we say, we don't really know what legal hoops would have to be gone through to make such a change, but we do think the city election format may be something it is time to take a look at.

We would also be interested to know readers' ideas on the subject, so we welcome letters on the topic. If you do choose to weigh in, please remember our guidelines: sign your letter, give us a phone number we can call to verify that you wrote it, and keep it under 300 words. We would enjoy hearing from you.

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