Friday, August 13, 2010

If you don't vote, don't complain about your government

Few elected (or appointed) officials have such an immediate and important impact on their community as a judge has. With a single ruling, a judge may enable a crime victim to begin the process of healing, determine what a parent's relationship to their child will be after a breakup with the other parent, protect the rights of a local business, determine how a deceased person's assets will be distributed, or any number of other situations where citizens seek justice. To be an effective judge, one must draw from life, legal and community experiences. His or her rulings must be fair, impartial, and have the utmost respect for the law. His or her demeanor should demonstrate respect and dignity for everyone in their courtroom.

CourtWatch, because we are a 501(c)(3) non-profit, cannot endorse specific candidates for judge in the upcoming elections. But I will share with you some things I've observed about the process and encourage you to become more involved with the electoral process - not just for judges, but for all elected officials.

Having been born and raised "inside the Beltway" of Washington, D.C. it seemed as if EVERYONE was politically active. Maybe it's because my mother was extremely involved in politics. As a child, one of my fondest memories was of the "coffee wagon" at our house on election day. Industrial sized coffee makers brewing in the kitchen and boxes upon boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts stacked on the dining room table. I didn't care for the coffee (except the aroma, of course), but the adults had to keep a watchful eye on those donuts until my sister and I went to school.

During election season, Mom's social life (and ours, when we were young) centered around rallys, picnics, and stuffing envelopes in the basement (child labor laws notwithstanding). Perhaps that's why, as I got older, I found other things to keep me busy (music, boys, hanging out at the mall, and driving around with no particular destination in mind). But my mother, who served for 25 years on the Electoral Board and ran the elections in our city, left me with the lesson that it is important to know who the candidates are, what they stand for, and to be an informed voter.

Hence my frustration with judicial elections here in Florida. Aside from having the candidate's basic biographical information, a photo of them with their family, information about their community involvement and charitable work, and a list of those who have endorsed them, there really is nothing to distinguish them from their opponents. That is, IF they even have an opponent.

In Orange County, there is only one contested race for a Circuit judge position. There are eight Circuit and seven County judges running unopposed.

In Seminole County, things look a bit more interesting.  Three out of six Circuit positions are contested and three incumbents are running unopposed.  There is only one County judge slot open and four candidates have set their sights upon it.

So how does a voter, who wants to make an informed decision, determine for whom they should vote when it comes to electing a non-partisan judge? Do we rely on the Sentinel's Voter Guide? Do we rely on a candidate's list of endorsements? On how "nice" they are when we meet them? On who has the most yard signs?

Unfortunately, that's all we've got at the moment.

Part of CourtWatch's vision is to provide an annual report to the community in which we offer our assessment of how the judges we monitor handle the domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse cases in their courtroom. Sadly, we have not had the resources to produce such a report yet. But we continue to watch, collect data, and address areas of concern (whether they relate to an individual or a systemic issue) when they are identified.

Each time I vote, I thank those who've sacrificed throughout the generations to secure that privilege for me. And I remember my mom working long hours - before, during and after election day - to make sure the process was properly handled.

Finally, if you don't vote, don't complain about your government.

No comments:

Post a Comment