AS A NEWSPAPER, we are big proponents of democracy. And that means encouraging people to exercise their most fundamental right in a democracy: to vote.

That's an especially challenging message this year, for today's primary will ask people to vote for three judges for a court that shouldn't exist.

In addition to candidates vying for city controller, for six open seats in Common Pleas court and for 10 seats in Municipal Court, there are three spots to fill on Traffic Court.

This year, the bar, never a high one for traffic court, was lowered further when nine of the court's former and current judges were charged in a federal probe with ticket-fixing. The state Legislature has made moves to abolish the court and put it under the authority of the Municipal Court. (Memo to Harrisburg: Please hurry up and make sure you do it before November's general election, or we'll be stuck paying these "judges" for six years.) Meanwhile, 27 people are vying for those three spots. It's expected that, as usual, ballot position will determine the outcome.

We are not going to tell you how to vote. But we are going to tell you to at least go cast a vote and do your homework before you get there. You may find that the candidate in the lead ballot position, Warren Bloom, owes the city tax money, and has a past conviction for indecent assault. You may decide to abstain from voting for any Traffic Court judges.

We won't argue with that.

In the absence of a big turnout, political committees, labor and special-interest groups will organize to get the vote out to assure that their favored candidate gets in. If the rest of us don't join them, that puts this election in the hands of a very few.

Last year, the state came close to disenfranchising many voters with a voter-ID law. The voting-rights battles over the last few hundred years are too hard-won to take for granted. Having a slate of candidates for a dubious, corrupted office is bad, but not having the chance to have your say is even worse.