Should We Appoint or Elect our Judges?

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Michael Hussey over at Pushing Rope has an interesting post this morning about judicial elections. It follows a Palm Beach Post editorial that calls for them to be changed to appointed positions, taking the voters out of the equation. Hussey disagrees.

The Post raises an interesting point: In Sarasota, the 15 percent undervote (those voters who came to the polls but did not vote or have a vote register) in the Christine Jennings-Vern Buchanan congressional race has spawned lawsuits and national debate about the veracity of the voting system. But in Palm Beach County, the undervote in judicial races is great than that: ranging from 15 percent to 25 percent.

I decided to check our judicial undervotes, and they are as statistically outrageous as those in Palm Beach County. In Hillsborough, 21 percent of Nov. 7's voters did not vote for either Emily Peacock or Samantha Ward. In the Gary Dolgin-Ashley Moody race, it was 19 percent. In two other judicial races in Hillsborough, 17 percent of the voters didn't care enough to touch a candidate's name.

I've long fretted about the state of judicial elections in Tampa Bay. As a former political consultant, my most heartbreaking losses came in judicials, where I saw some of the most qualified candidates go down to defeat to vastly underqualified opponents. I also witnessed the guts of the appointment process, with its back-room politics. Still, I did not favor appointing our circuit and county court judges. Until now.

It is clear that the public cannot be expected to learn enough about judicial candidates to make an informed choice and have relatively little interest in doing so. The races draw no TV coverage and precious little daily newspaper analysis. The only way judicial candidates can let the voters know about themselves is to either 1) finance their own campaigns to the tune of more than $125,000 (meaning that only the wealthy need apply) or 2) raise tons of money, almost all of it from lawyers who will later appear in front of them in court (raising the problem of appearance of favoritism).

What do you think? Appoint or elect?

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