Essayist puzzles over down-ballot election racesby Peter Smith, Minnesota Public Radio
Twenty-four candidates are on the ballot this November to fill a judges seat in Stillwater, Minnesota. Even if you don't find yourself faced with 24 judicial candidates when you go to vote, it can be difficult to make an informed decision on those less-publicized down-ballot races. What's a Minnesota voter to do? Essayist Peter Smith has a few thoughts about that.
Smith: They say Justice is blind, and it is for the most part. But Justice has the eyes of an eagle, compared to your typical Minnesotan in a voting booth with a slate full of judicial elections to muddle through.
Who are these people? How'd they finagle their way onto the ballot anyhow? Are they good? Are they bad? Do they lean to the left or the right? Should they be leaning at all?
And just how important are these positions they're running for?
Imagine a continuum of Federal, state and municipal legal officials with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on one end and your brother-in-law the notary public on the other. Where do the people on the ballot fit in?
Search me... Heck, search every man, woman and child in the state. We don't have a clue. We don't even know where to go to find out.
Voter ambivalence in these races is more than just commonplace around here. It's a time-honored Minnesota tradition. I'll bet that not once in the state's hundred-and-sixty-plus-year history has a clerk in the Secretary of State's office looked up and seen a voter standing there, saying, "These candidates for judge... Can you tell me something about 'em?"
How do we better-inform the electorate? How can we infuse some passion and insight into these elections? The answer may well be to make people running for judge buy real, hardball political advertising, not the low profile boilerplate "Joe Doaks for Judge" announcements they settle for now.
Let's make them slur their opponents and impugn their records. Let's let corporations and political action committees contribute to their campaigns and call it free speech.
Let's see the distorted photo of the opponent. Let's hear the spooky music and that ominous announcer, saying, "Joe Doaks... Wrong for Minnesota."
On second thought, naaah. They already do that in some other states-states that don't work nearly as well as ours.
So once again this year, we'll stand there and wrack our brains for tiniest bit of practical information to use as we make our decisions. We'll finally shrug -- and vote blindly. We won't feel good about it, but we'll vote anyhow.
Then we'll take a deep breath, and turn our attention to those supercharged, high stakes races for the three open seats on the Soil and Water Conservation Board.
- Morning Edition, 10/11/2010, 6:55 a.m.
Peter Smith lives in Hopkins, Minn.