Last week, the State Bar of Arizona launched an odd campaign. It’s a social media contest using the photo sharing, video streaming site Instagram.
Called Finish the Ballot!, the contest is supposed to promote voter information about judicial retention elections. Yeah, there’s a challenge — ginning up excitement for a dull but important topic.
Dangling all of a $250 Visa gift card as the sole prize, contestants vie by creating a 15-second Instagram video that must include the phrase, “Finish the ballot. Vote for the judges!”
Bar employees will pick the winner based on “creativity and originality as they reflect the contest’s theme.” Instead of “Just Say No!” think “Just Say Vote!”
The goal is to increase voter participation — at least on that really long part of the ballot with all the judicial names expecting virtually guaranteed retention.
Problem is that voters in Arizona and in other judicial retention states continue choosing not to complete their ballots. The phenomenon has a name. It’s called “undervoting” or “roll off.”
The worry is that for merit selection and judicial retention election proponents, all those non-votes undermine the argument that retention elections are supposedly great at ensuring judicial accountability.
And with ever longer ballots and so many judges listed, it’s not getting any better. In one recent Maricopa County election, for example, there were 65 judges on the ballot.
Indeed, according to a June 2014 Arizona Law Review article, “Judicial Performance Review in Arizona: A Critical Assessment,” authors former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch and her former law clerk now attorney Erin Norris Bass, reference Professor Larry Aspin’s studies revealing that between 1964 and 2010, Arizona judges up for retention averaged an undervote of 42.9%.
In his report, “Judicial retention election trends,” Aspin highlighted the undervoting increase in the state’s largest county, Maricopa, where it ran “an average 48.8% in the 1996-2006 period, peaking at 54.5% in 2004.” And citing 2012 Maricopa County Election Results, Justice Berch and Ms. Bass noted more recently that “In the 2012 retention election, Maricopa County Superior Court judges on the ballot had an average 50.7% undervote.”
But besides undervoting, there’s another concern troubling the legal establishment. Justice Berch and Ms. Bass’ law review article, also cited findings that “approximately 30% of the electorate routinely votes ‘no’ in judicial retention elections no matter who the judge happens to be.”
In Maricopa County, among those taking the time to vote for all the judges, the median affirmative vote in the 2012 county election was 69%. Anecdotally at least, one can speculate this may be a form of protest by restive voters dissatisfied with the present system.
Photo Credits: 214/365, at Flickr by Morgan via Creative Commons attribution; Making Faces, at Flickr by a2gemma via Creative Commons-attribution license; by joanna8555 at Flickr Creative Commons attribution license;Instagram-logo, uploaded by José Moutinho at Flickr Creative Commons attribution;DeMoulin’s Patented Hoodwink, at Flickr Creative Commons-attribution license uploaded by Arallyn!