Friday, November 28, 2014
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You be the judge

You've got deadbeats, ex-prosecutors and some veteran jurists vying for Common Pleas court judgeships in Philaldelphia today. Good luck remembering who's who.

You be the judge

In Philadelphia Tuesday, 35 Democrats are vying for 10 positions on the Court of Common Pleas.

You've got a couple of deadbeats, a former prosecutor, some able attorneys and experienced jurists, plus nine people determined by the local bar association to be not worthy of the bench.

Good luck remembering who's who.

For 20 years Lynn Marks has worked to change the way Pennsylvania picks its judges.

"I voted this morning," she said. "I'm a politically active lawyer, and I didn't know most of the people running."

She's executive director of Pennsylvanians For Modern Courts.

The appointment of judges is one of her group's priorities. "Voters just don't know anything about (judges') qualifications. It's not the voters' faults," she said. "It's really difficult to get meaningful information about what would make a good judge."

Every candidate will tout his or her toughness on crime, but no one is going to take a detailed position that might disqualify them from service. A judge is supposed to make decisions based solely on fact and law "and not what they said on the campaign trail," Marks said. "It's a crazy system to have people running very political campaigns for a job that's supposed to be non-political and non-partisan."

A surprisingly small number of Philadelphia voters will wind up choosing who fills the bench

Voter turnout on this drippy day is predicted to be small, with no real contest in the Democratic primary for mayor.

When figuring out voter percentages, there are a couple things to keep in mind. Philadelphia's elections rolls suggest either the city's political parties are extremely effectve at making sure people are registered, or the numbers are funny.

The Board of Elections states there are 1,014,088 registered voters. The 2010 census states there are 1,182,169 Philadelphians age 18 or older and eligible to vote. (We need to subtract from the the number of incarcerated felons, who are not supposed to vote. That number is harder to pin down, but it's a healthy one.)

So looking at those two figures, does that mean that a whopping 86 percent of the city's eligible voters are registered?

Not exactly.

There's another number to consider, what the Board of Elections considers 'likely voters.' These are those folks who have voted within the past five years.

That number, 870,974, means that the rate of eligible Philadelphians who might actually vote is roughly three out of four, which still sounds high.

By the time they get down to voting for judges, that number gets a lot smaller.

There is, of course, the possibility, the rolls are swollen with the dead, the impossibly old, the way-too-young, and the incarcerated. A former DOJ lawyer sampled the city data in 2006 and found some softness in the figures. Since then the city has culled the roster.

In the interest of being useful, where do you go to get good information? You could try our endorsements. The Philadelphia Bar Association. Metropolis.phl.

 

Daniel Rubin Inquirer Columnist
About this blog
Blinq is a news commentary blog featuring contributions from Inquirer Metro columnists Kevin Riordan and Daniel Rubin.

Kevin Riordan Inquirer Columnist
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