(Or how the heck do I decide whom to vote for?)
One of the questions I have repeatedly received from across the state is “who are the conservative candidates for judge?” If you are confused on whom to vote for in judicial elections, you can thank many of your state legislators. The start of this problem was the 2002 Senate Bill 1054 and you can see for yourself who voted for this bill. This law was a two-edged sword, it took party identification off the ballot and simultaneously created a taxpayer financed campaign scheme that limited the money statewide judicial candidates spend. Less information on the ballot combined with less communications from a candidate is a recipe for less voter knowledge and participation. On top of that, you get more state spending on a program that is just taxpayer support for lawyers who want to be judges.
In August, I wrote on this issue in an article titled, “Voters Have Difficult Time Judging Judges.” Two Civitas monthly polls this summer looked at the North Carolina Supreme Court Race for the Edmunds seat between Republican Justice Robert (Bob) H. Edmunds, Jr. and Democratic Law Professor Suzanne Reynolds. In the first poll – in July – we identified the candidates by party. In the second – August – poll, we did not. We found that without the benefit of party identification 74 percent of voters were unsure how they would cast their vote. With party affiliation for the same judicial candidates, only 31 percent of voters were unsure whom they would support. Party identification is a crucial element in how people decide who to support in elections, especially down ballot races that don’t get a lot of media coverage.
How are people to determine the philosophy and leanings of a judicial candidate? Fortunately a lot of information is out there – you just have to look. Both political parties have clearly identified their respective candidates in all the judicial races. The Democratic Party has identified their Statewide Judicial candidates, and the Republican Party has identified their Statewide Judicial candidates. Likewise the Republican Party has identified their Local Judicial Candidates as has the Democratic Party. Voters can go to these sites and learn the partisan leanings of judicial candidates as they try to decide how they will cast their votes. They can also look to a myriad of non-partisan groups such as the North Carolina Family Policy Council that do questionnaires and publish the results.
Another problem identified in Voters Have Difficult Time Judging Judges was the number of voters who do not vote for the statewide judicial offices. In 2000, the last presidential election that included party identification, only 2.8 percent of the people who voted for president did not vote in the Supreme Court race. By contrast in the 2004 election, in which party identification was not included for judicial candidates, 22.6 percent of the people who voted for president did not vote in the Supreme Court race! In effect, state legislators have discouraged more than a fifth of the voters from participating in the election of justices to the highest court in North Carolina. (For more on this problem in the current way we elect our judiciary, see An Inconvenient Fiction, a recent journal article by John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation.)
You now know the problem – the solution is to use the links provided above, arm yourself with information from these sources and others, educate yourself and others, and go cast an informed vote. Your vote is vital in these judicial races since so many people skip them. Your vote could be the one that decides who sits on the highest courts in North Carolina for the next eight years. In the North Carolina judicial races it is harder than it used to be to be an informed voter, but it is not impossible.
Francis X. De Luca