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Columbia Missourian

GUEST COMMENTARY: Voter drop-off a threat to Missouri judicial election

By Megan O'Neill
October 31, 2012 | 5:28 p.m. CDT

Missouri judicial elections matter.

Educated votes frequent national and gubernatorial ballots. A drop-off often exists between the top of the state ticket and judicial elections. The power of the judiciary should not be understated.

Low voter participation is a simple threat to our democracy. One vote in the midst of more than 120 million votes is small, miniscule at best, but it represents the undeniable right that makes our country great. What is to be said of the hundreds of thousands of lives that were lost in protecting our vote if it’s not applied? Furthermore, it is one step to exercise your right to vote, it is another to cast an informed ballot across all elections.

Judicial retention elections are one part of Missouri’s judicial system, known nationally as the Missouri Plan. The nonpartisan court plan is the arrangement in which judges on the Supreme Court, the three appeals courts and circuit courts in St. Louis and St. Louis, Jackson, Clay, Platte and Greene counties are chosen.

Judges are appointed by the governor from a panel of three applicants, all of which are promoted by a nominating commission. Following their first 12-month period on the bench, the judges stand in a retention election.

The transparency of the system works in favor of the voters. The only requirement then is that the electorate must use it — cast an educated ballot — for the plan to be successful.

The question isn’t whether you support the plan; it’s instead whether you will work with it. Voters have the final say in retention elections, and as such, the plan becomes accountable to the people. In 2010, the drop-off in Missouri judicial retention elections was 16 percent, a result of voters’ tendency to not vote should they not feel informed.

Because nonpartisan judges are restricted from campaigning, information is typically not readily available to the public. For this reason, the Missouri Bar has created to help give insight as to the qualifications of judges seeking retention in this cycle.

The website distributes narrative analyses for each of the 51 judges, as well as judges’ written opinions and numerical results of lawyer and juror surveys.

Casting your vote is essential to the preservation of an impartial judiciary. As a citizen, you are tried by judges free and independent of any distractions. Impartial interpretation of the law should be an incentive if nothing else to cast an informed vote through the entire ballot.

Megan O'Neill is a senior journalism major at MU.