Supervisor of elections offices have been inundated with voters switching from Democrat, Independent and NPA (no party affiliation) to Republican. Is there a conservative wave taking over Northeast Florida? Not quite.
Two of the most important races in Northeast Florida include the race for State Attorney and Public Defender for the Fourth Judicial Circuit, which includes Duval, Clay and Nassau counties. As the qualifying deadline approached, the incumbent state attorney, who is a Republican, had two Republican opponents; and the incumbent public defender, also a Republican, had one Republican opponent.
If the races had remained like this, then all registered voters in Duval, Clay, and Nassau counties would have been able to cast a vote in these races.
However, the circumstances drastically changed when a write-in candidate filed in each race. Once the write-in candidates filed, the primaries were closed, and only the approximately 320,000 registered Republicans would have the opportunity to elect the next state attorney and public defender.
The write-in candidates effectively disenfranchised 440,000 registered voters — including 97 percent of the African-American voters in the judicial circuit.
Many Democrats, Independents, and NPA voters have decided to change their party affiliation to Republican for the sole purpose of voting in the state attorney and public defender races. The problem with this is that by changing parties many Democrats will be foregoing the right to vote in important Democratic primary races, such as the U.S. Senate, Congressional District 5, and State House Districts 13 and 14 races. All of these races have competitive Democratic primaries.
Therefore, we need engaged Democrats to vote in the Democratic primaries to put our candidates in the best position to succeed in the general election.
Changing party affiliation is not the answer. The answer lies in building a movement to change the ability to close an election due to the entry of a write-in candidate and to make the races for state attorney and public defender nonpartisan.
We all know the importance of having a fair and impartial judiciary. When a judge runs, he or she runs as a nonpartisan without any taint of politics or a political agenda.
The state attorney and the public defender work alongside these nonpartisan judges with the desired mutual purpose of seeking JUSTICE.
So, why are state attorney and public defender races partisan? Why do we have politics injected into our criminal justice system?
One of the first actions I will take in the Legislature is to remove politics from our criminal justice system by making the state attorney and public defender offices nonpartisan. In order to have a fairer and more just society, we must have a fair and impartial judicial system that promotes equal justice for all.
Leslie Jean-Bart is an election protection attorney with the Florida Democratic Party and a candidate for House District 14.