Low name recognition in judicial elections can drive partisanship

Written by Rachel McDevitt | Nov 3, 2017 5:14 AM

FILE PHOTO: People walk by the Pennsylvania Judicial Center at the state Capitol in Harrisburg. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

(Harrisburg) -- Seats on Pennsylvania's top three appeals courtsare up for grabs in Tuesday's election, but voters likely won't recognize many of the candidates' names.

Political analysts say that's a problem. 

Pennsylvania is one of only six states where judges at all levels are elected.

Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, said at the county level, it's reasonable to think voters will know something about the candidates.

But take it to the state level and, "you can get into the 90s in the percent of people who do not know who the candidates are," Madonna said.

He added uninformed voting can drive up partisanship around positions that are meant to judge the law impartially.

"This will only enhance the prospect for straight party voting," Madonna said. "As opposed to get people to look at the qualifications, to get them to know something about the candidates, and pick and choose regardless of party."

Madonna argues there's no perfect system of selecting judges, but it would be preferable to have an idependent commission to interview candidates and make recommendations to the governor. Appointees could then be confirmed by the state Senate.

The judicial reform advocacy group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts has been unsuccessfully pushing for the merit selection of appellate judges for over two decades.

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