Let’s face it, voting for judges can be a pain. You don’t recognize their names, and the ballot doesn’t say if they are an incumbent or a challenger. You don’t know if they have any experience or the right judicial temperament. So, what can be done about it?
This article consists of two parts: (1) Making an Informed Choice, where I provide links to help you make informed choices in the judicial elections; and (2) Voting Techniques to Avoid, in which I argue against some of the most common ways people approach judicial elections.
Making an Informed Choice
Voting is a civic duty – a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. This holds true up and down the ballot. It can be daunting when it comes to voting for judges – for example, this year in Harris County there are over 30 judgeships up for grabs. Here are a couple of techniques to make an informed choice.
Judicial polls can be useful tools in making an informed decision. Some are better than others. The State Bar of Texas and many county bar associations have their own polls. Here are a couple links to some of them, and the pros and cons of each:
Association of Women Attorneys – Houston – (the “AWA”)
This one is my favorite. I use it in making my selections, modified as appropriate if I have personal knowledge of a particular candidate.
- Pros – It attempts to cover every judicial race on the ballots in Harris County, but only those candidates that interview with the AWA are eligible for endorsement. Candidates are selected based upon their experience and judicial temperament. If the AWA determines that more than one candidate in a race is qualified to serve, it will endorse each one.
- Cons – It is limited to Statewide and Harris County court races. Candidates are left out if they don’t participate in the interviews. A court race will be omitted if the AWA believes there are no qualified candidates for that race.
- Pros – This is a state-wide preference poll of Texas attorneys. In an ideal world, the people practicing before the court should have an informed opinion on the qualities of the candidates.
- Cons – This poll is limited to the Texas Supreme Court, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and State Appellate Courts; it does not include any of the lower courts. It includes candidates that were in the primaries and are not on the ballot. There is no way to tell what the preference is based upon. The poll is not limited to attorneys who practice in those courts.
- Pros – This is a poll of attorneys who are members of the Houston Bar Association. It includes all the judicial races in the State Bar poll, plus all of the lower courts in Harris County, the Harris County Attorney and District Attorney races.
- Cons – It is a relatively small sample, less than 2,000 attorneys participated, out of a membership in excess of 11,000 (still an 18% response rate is not bad). There is no way to tell what the preference is based upon. The poll is not limited to attorneys who practice in those courts.
If you vote outside of Harris County, and can’t find a judicial poll for your area, go to our contact us page and tell us in which county you vote. We will try to find a non-partisan judicial poll and let you know what we find.
I realize that many of us don’t have the time to read up on every candidate for office, but in cases where a poll is not available, or you have the time to do the research, here’s how to go about it.
- Many judicial candidates have their own web site. Of course, you have to know who is running. First, you need a sample ballot for your voting district. For example, in
Harris County you can obtain a sample ballot by going to Harris Votes. Input your name, address, or voter registration number, and it will take you to a sample ballot.
- After you know who is running, you can search the web by candidate name and read their website.
Voting Techniques to Avoid
There are other ways to vote for judges, but they are flawed and do a disservice to ourselves, our community, and the electoral process. In this section I will address the most common techniques, the arguments in favor of them, and why I believe they are flawed.
I’m not a fan of this method. I’ll admit that I have done so in my early years, but I stopped voting straight ticket a long time ago. Here are some of the common arguments in favor of it, and why I think they are flawed:
Its fast and easy, I don’t have to think about it
- Save that for binge-watching your favorite TV show. Voting is real life, meat-and-potatoes kind of stuff. Use the amazing brain that God gave you.
- We have a moral responsibility to exercise our rights as citizens in a responsible manner. What we do – or don’t do – in the voting both affects not only ourselves, but our entire community.
- There is also a practical reason why this approach is flawed. The machines may not record your votes accurately. According to recent news reports, faulty programming was discovered in the Chambers and Harris County voting machines. When a voter selected straight ticket, upon review of the ballot before casting their vote, they found that in some races, other candidates were selected! A polling station worker had to re-set the machine to correct the programming before the ballot was cast. Consequently, no time is saved, and there is the risk that your vote is not properly recorded.
I can’t imagine EVER voting for someone of another political party, not even a judge
Oh how I wish judicial races were non-partisan!
- Trial court judges spend a great deal of their time ruling on arcane procedural and evidentiary issues, and applying precedent on a particular area of law. Political beliefs have nothing to do with those issues.
- Have you ever voted for a legislator or other official based upon their party affiliation only to be let down once they are in office? Well, the same can happen with judges. On a practical level, a judge’s political affiliation sometimes has more to do with winning a race than their core beliefs. Case in point – A number of years ago, some judges in Texas switched political parties prior to an upcoming election – either they had a change of heart, or a cynical belief that the other party was their best chance at getting reelected; either way, if you had voted in the earlier election for those judges based upon their party affiliation, well, it didn’t help you much did it?
I am neither Democrat or Republican. I am affiliated with the Libertarian, Green or other party, I want more of them in office
When it comes to the judicial races this year, you likely won’t get more of them in office by voting straight ticket.
- I looked at the ballot for my district in Harris County; there are only 6 judicial slots that have candidates affiliated with a party other than Democrat or Republican; all six are statewide races for the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals; only Democrats and Republicans are on the ballot for the Harris County judicial races. A straight ticket vote means you are not participating in any of the races where your party is missing.
- If you want more of them in office, they will have to become more popular to make it to the ballot; election time is too late.
I don’t know who any of those judges are; it’s either straight ticket or no vote at all
In my humble opinion, if that’s your attitude I’d rather you not vote for a judge at all, and leave it up to those of us who have made the effort to know which judicial candidates are the best choice for us. See Making an Informed Choice above on how to become informed.
Skipping the Judicial Races
This reminds me of an episode of that old TV comedy show, “All in the Family” – The main character, Archie Bunker, explained to his son-in-law why he wasn’t voting in the mid-term elections. He said it was because he’s “saving” his vote for the big one, the presidential election.
Of course that’s nonsense. Voting in America is like love, you never run out – you wouldn’t dream of “saving” your love for those near and dear to you, would you? Yet there are those who try to justify skipping the judicial races and not voting for any candidate:
I don’t know any of them, it’s not fair to people who do if I cast an uninformed vote
Pahleese! You are kidding yourself if you think you are being charitable.
- Don’t squander your right to self-determination. Not voting could mean the difference between a good judge who makes the right decisions, and an incompetent fool who has no business being on the bench.
- I pray that for all those who don’t cast an informed vote in the judicial elections, that they never have to be in a lawsuit. See Making an Informed Choice above on how to become informed.
I’m not likely to ever be in a lawsuit, it won’t make any difference in my life
I beg to differ. Here are some ways you or your loved ones may be directly involved with an elected judge:
- Car wreck – they happen every day, many wind up in court.
- DWI – ‘nough said.
- Divorce, adoption – some say half of all marriages end in divorce.
- Probate court – we are all going to die some day. Ok, so if you die it won’t matter to you who the probate judge is, but when your spouse, parent or other loved one does, it will matter.
- Jury duty – if you think “bothering” to vote is time consuming, try jury duty with a judge who can’t decide on simple objections during a trial and you’re sitting there on the jury waiting for him or her to make up their mind.
- Here’s how you are indirectly affected by elected judges
- Your friends and loved ones are involved in a lawsuit or other judicial proceeding
- Sometimes, elected judges do make rulings that impact your life – like ruling on state tax laws, interpreting the Texas constitution, granting parole to dangerous criminals, etc.
Between work and the kids, it’s hard enough just making it to the polls, I’m too busy to research this stuff
We are all busy, I get that. See Making an Informed Choice above for some resources that will make this process easier for you.
It seems difficult to make an informed decision on who to vote for in the judicial elections, but it doesn’t have to be. You could use judicial evaluation polls to take out some of the guesswork. Better still, if you have the time, many judicial candidates have websites where you can read about their qualifications and positions on issues.
I’m Ed, and I’m just sayin’…