They may not know who Joe Biden is, but they can vote for judges

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A week or so ago, I read an op-ed piece about voting by columnist David Harsanyi.  He was writing in response to the current dispute about whether states should make it easier for people to vote. Harsanyi believes that voting should be a difficult task. His point of view is based, at least in part, on how little so many know about our government. He cited a Pew Research Center survey that found that little more than a third of American adults can name the three branches of government; only 38 percent can identify which party controls the House or Senate.

Harsani is saying that if we make it too easy to vote, then maybe we’ll have too many people voting who shouldn’t be voting. That struck me as condescending, the words of a patrician speaking about the vulgar masses—until I saw a clip from the Jimmy Kimmel show just a few days later.

Because Joe Biden was in area, Kimmel thought it would be interesting to see how many people know who Biden is, and so random adults on Hollywood Blvd. were asked, “Who is Joe Biden?”  Of the 11 people I watched, only one got close: “Isn’t he like the assistant president?”  Really, that was the closest to an accurate answer. Two people thought Biden might be a governor, one thought he might be a Republican running for president, and another thought he was a movie star. Others had no idea. The best answer—in terms of humor, anyway— “It’s a terrorist group.”  Seriously, that was someone’s answer, and he said it with a straight face.

I’ve been writing for years that electing state court judges is a bad idea. One of the reasons is that few voters have any idea of who they’re voting for. For many reasons, judicial candidates don’t get the same exposure as other politicians do. Sure, you’ll see an occasional ad, where a candidate is talking about being tough and fair, but that’s about it.

On occasion, I’ve spoken to groups about why we should appoint judges based on merit. I never hear any disagreement. People are frustrated by not knowing more about judicial candidates. They do know one thing: candidate with names like O’Neil or Brown or O’Grady are more likely to get elected. It’s sad, but name recognition is a big factor in electing judges, and qualifications are almost insignificant.

Let’s get back to the Jimmy Kimmel clip.  If adults in L.A. don’t know who Joe Biden is, then we must have people in Ohio who don’t know who he is. Do we really want these people choosing the judges who preside over our courts?  There’s a touch of arrogance to what I’m saying, and I don’t feel good about that, but I value the court system greatly, and I know that a judicial candidate’s qualifications are not what controls an election.

The work of judges is too important to be left to guess work. We need the best and the brightest to serve in the judiciary. If voters can’t tell you who Joe Biden is, how in the world can they choose the right person to serve as judge?


Jack D’Aurora writes for



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