CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A voter education effort is needed across West Virginia, according to one sitting judge, ahead of the May primary election during which, for the first time, judges in the Mountain State will be elected without party affiliations.
“You’ve got to vote in May if you’re going to vote for a judge,” warned Raleigh County Circuit Judge John Hutchison during an appearance on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.” “Because you’re not going to see a judge on the ballot in November.”
There is no longer a nominating process for Supreme Court justices, circuit judges, family court judges and magistrates so the May 10th winners will officially take their seats on Jan 1, 2017 following a transition period.
Additionally, the nonpartisan elections are at the end of ballot.
“Those elections are hidden at the back of the ballot and, in terms of how we put the ballots together, that’s a real problem in terms of judicial elections, especially on the Republican side because of the big list,” Hutchison said.
“The big list” contains 250 names of potential delegates for the Republican National Convention. All of those names are listed before the judicial and board of education nonpartisan races.
“I think that’s a real problem. I know in Raleigh County, the ballot commissioners here, we use machines in Raleigh County and you have to go from page to page,” Hutchison said. “To get from the beginning of the Republican National Convention candidates, to get through that to the first nonpartisan election, you’ve got to punch ‘next page’ 17 times.”
The Democratic primary ballot is shorter because it does not include convention delegate candidates.
One seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court, which is a 12 year term, is on the May 10 ballot along with circuit judges who are elected for eight years. The initial term for elected family court judges is six years, while subsequent terms last for eight years. Magistrates are being elected for four years.
The races are split by divisions.
This year, four new circuit judge seats are on ballots, nine other seats are open where judges have retired while, according to Hutchison, seven circuit judges have competition.
“They’re unbelievably important,” Hutchison said of those judicial races.
The new law changing the judicial election process took effect in June 2015.
More than two dozen other states already use nonpartisan elections for judicial selections in varying degrees. In addition to partisan and nonpartisan elections, judicial selection methods in other parts of the U.S. include merit selections and appointments.