Wednesday, May 20, 2009

And Justice For All...

First let's put to rest the argument that the way we elect Common Pleas Court Judges in Pennsylvania is non-partisan. It is not. It's bi-partisan. That's a big difference. The Democratic and Republican Parties chose their nominees for Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge in yesterday's Municipal Primary. Three candidates, William Amesbury, Tina Polachek Gartley and Richard Hughes will face off in November's Municipal Election. (By the way it's a Municipal Election, not a General Election.)

Only voters registered in the Democratic and Republican Parties could vote for the nominees. Voters registered in other parties could not vote for Judge of the Court of Common Pleas.

When you look at the total vote cast in the Primary, a slightly different picture emerges. Here is the order of finish combining the entire vote for each candidate.

1. Amesbury 15, 087
2. Gartley 11, 620
3. Sklarosky 10, 695
4. Musto 9, 779
5. Zola 8, 394
6. O'Connor 8, 148
7. Sperazza 8, 124
8. Hughes 7, 343

Rogers, Marsilio, Buffalino, Mirabito, Blazick, Terrana, Lumbis, Menn and Pendolphi follow in order.

Here's a suggestion on how to improve the process so that it more accurately reflects the will of the electorate. Eliminate the bi-partisan Primary. Replace it with a non-partisan runoff open to ALL voters.

In the non-partisan runoff all candidates would run on one ballot. There would not be a Democratic ballot and a Republican ballot. The number of nominations available would be twice the number of vacancies. In Luzerne County's case, the field would be narrowed to four candidates in the Judicial Primary runoff. There would not be Democratic or Republican nominees. There would be four candidates facing off in the Judicial Election runoff; the top four finishers in the Primary runoff.

The candidates would appear on the ballot with their political party registration. For example; Amesbury (D), Hughes (R). Candidates who do not belong to either of the major parties could also file nominating petitions for the Primary runoff. A candidate from the Green Party could be on the ballot providing she or he obtained the signatures of Green Party registered voters. The number of signatures would be the same for all candidates.

If this procedure was followed in this primary, four candidates would have emerged; Amesbury, Gartley. Sklarosky and Musto. With what could be three vacancies on the Luzerne County Bench in 2011, candidates Zola, O'Connor and Sperazza could make strong cases to Governor Ed Rendell for the interim appointments to the Court. The big asterisk in all of this of course is adding in the votes of those who were unable to participate yesterday because they were not registered as Democrat or Republican.

The runoff Primary could and should be used in School Board and Magisterial District Judge races as well. Double the number of vacancies to get the number of candidates who would square off in the November Election. Five School Board vacancies? Ten top finishers in the runoff move on.

The runoff could even be used in municipal races for Mayor, Council and Township Supervisor. The argument would be made that in towns where one party dominates the registration, you could see all Democrats or all Republicans squaring off in November. Sure the possibility exists, but in all likelihood the process would open up for minority party and even third party candidates.

Those seeking office would have to seek the popular vote and not just speak to the voters of their party.

Perhaps by counting all the votes, we could achieve justice for all.