YIR: Judge tosses Marion Superior judicial election system

Keywords neglect

Speaking of Marion Superior Court, the way those judges have been elected since the 1970s may be about to change. In October, a federal judge ruled the Marion Superior judicial election system is unconstitutional.

Marion County is the only Indiana county that uses the unique hybrid method of trial judge selection. The method was instituted following the complete removal of the county’s Republican judges after the Watergate scandal. In Marion County, Republicans and Democrats get the same number of judicial candidate ballot spots. The parties hold slating conventions where they endorse those who will appear on the ballot, and each party collects money from candidates to pay for election costs.

If a candidate wins in the primary, he or she is guaranteed to win in the general election as long as at least one ballot is cast in his or her favor.

Chief Judge Richard Young in the Southern District of Indiana noted in his ruling that this election system appears unique in the country, too. He agreed with plaintiff Common Cause’s argument that I.C. 33-34-19-13(b) is unconstitutional. Because primaries are restricted to the two major parties, only people eligible to vote in primary elections have a chance to cast a meaningful ballot for only half the open judgeships. Furthermore, people ineligible to vote in these elections because they do not declare a party have no say in the election of the judges, Common Cause alleged.

“… [T]he potential for independent and third-party candidates to appear on the ballot does not alleviate the burden imposed by Indiana’s electoral scheme: when a person proceeds to the ballot box on Election Day, he or she must be afforded an opportunity to vote for the judge who will fill Marion Superior Court #1, the judge who will fill Marion Superior Court #2, and so forth,” Young wrote. “Indiana law does not permit this. … The court therefore finds the challenged Statute severely burdens the right to vote.”

Young stayed his ruling during the 30-day period within which the defendants may file a notice of appeal, so it didn’t impact the 2014 general election. The stay will remain in effect until the 7th Circuit rules on the matter. All briefs are due by early February 2015.

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