The 2016 U.S. presidential election has been an unavoidable topic for over a year now, and although these elections have had higher voter turnout historically, this election season will still result in many casting votes down the ballot for their party blindly. Others will vote for their president of choice and nothing else on the ballot. While the intense media coverage of the presidential candidates’ every move allows for plenty of information to be available to educate voters on the national race, it is more important to take the time to learn about those running in local elections.
In particular, the most impactful local elections this year will be the ones determining positions for state judges. Although a position as a federal judge is important enough to require an appointment from both the president and Congress, 38 states nominate almost all of their judiciary positions of power through some type of election. These decisions must not be made lightly. Whoever wins a seat will have the opportunity to shape court proceedings that will affect their constituents’ lives immediately: they will be the ones setting bail, hearing discrimination cases or deciding custody. The person sitting on that bench matters.
In many instances, it is hard to learn about who is running for a judicial seat. In New York, that is because judicial elections are a rubber stamp for party-selected judges, come election day. On some level, it is good to know that these people are being vetted by party officials, but this is also the
U. S., and we are supposed to be a nation leading by democratic example. Handing off that critical decision to a political party machine is not an appropriate solution. Voting for a candidate who has no opposition and was chosen by a few party members doesn’t feel very democratic, but even more alarming is one where the majority of voters don’t even realize or care that it is happening.
For many, this election season is disappointing. But instead of concerning ourselves so much with the most celebrated race, we should divert our attention towards those running in races that aren’t as publicized. These are the elections that are vital and consequential. Although it might be hard to assemble all the information about the down-ballot candidates, it is beyond necessary. Being informed allows voters to make choices that reflect their own political view about individuals who, should a voter ever encounter trouble with the law, could ultimately directly affect their lives. In addition to learning the names of the judges running for a seat in their local jurisdiction, constituents should also read up on their credentials. It’s a vital step towards not only becoming a more informed voter, but also to fully exercising the right to vote.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, September 26th print edition. Email Zoe Hall at [email protected]