The problems with judicial elections are many, but the two most important issues are 1. judicial candidates can’t promise any particular outcomes since they’re not legislators, and 2. cross-filing means there’s no party competition on “the issues”. Cross-filing is one of those anti-party reforms from the Progressive Era that the early Progressives got badly badly wrong.
The upshot of holding elections with no party or issue competition is that candidate quality is abysmal, and the only way to compete for votes is by openly giving out favors to people – a practice which has become impressively professionalized on the Philadelphia Traffic Court.
Chris Sawyer looks out over the wreckage and tries to grok the madness:
Where do these idiots come from that sit on the bench?
That’s probably the million dollar question that very few Philadelphians know the answer to. In the primaries, anyone who is over 18 and can breathe oxygen can toss their name into a pool for the Philadelphia Democratic Primary and Republican Primary for traffic court.
The requirement to run for Traffic Court is just 1,000 signatures and Democrats or Republicans can nominate the same judge.
Once you can get through the filing process, the real election is random. Whoever gets listed at the top of the ballot on the voting machine will always win the most votes for Traffic Court judge. Philadelphians never know who any of the people are that are running in this dog house, so when lots are drawn to determine what order the judges are listed on the ballot, the judges who make it to the top of the list always receive the most votes.
Voters can only push so many buttons on the voting machine for the Traffic Court race, and the top winners in the race win whatever seats on the bench that are available.
Judge Singletary, who shows pictures of his “judicial penis” to a Traffic Court staff employee, won his seat on the bench merely by being listed first. Not withstanding that he had over $10,000 in fines and his driver’s license was revoked when he won election.
With a body of judges that are mainly political hacks and inexperienced do-nothings who are easily swayed by smarter pols asking traffic tickets for friends and family and political connections be expunged, do you think the way we elect our judges has something to do with it?