Pennsylvanians will vote this November to elect judges in the state’s three appellate courts, and a virtual candidate forum next week will allow voters to get to know those running for the Commonwealth, Superior, and Supreme Court positions who will make influential decisions.
Two seats are up for grabs in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court, and one each in its Superior and Supreme courts. Pennsylvania differs from some states in that it votes for judges in partisan elections, rather than by merit selection.
Debbie Gross, CEO of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said it limits the information voters can gather from candidates as they are expected to remain impartial in light of issues that could arise on the bench.
“You can’t ask them how they feel on a controversial topic because all these types of cases could potentially reach the court, even a decision over the pandemic and the masks,” Gross explained. “You can’t ask a judge any of these questions when these are real cases that they may be deciding in the near future.”
You can register online to join the candidate forum at 7:00 p.m. next Monday, Sep. 20. The deadline to register to vote in Pennsylvania for the Nov. 2 election is Oct. 18.
In off-year elections, Pennsylvania often sees low voter turnout. During the May 2021 primary, participation was sparse, compared with the record-breaking 70% of the state’s eligible population who voted during the 2020 presidential election.
Meghan Pierce, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, said it’s important for residents to be civically engaged since the elected judges could play a big role in issues such as redistricting in the future.
“I think what a lot of voters don’t realize is, is how much responsibility judges really carry, and how decisions that they make really affect all aspects of their lives,” Pierce pointed out. “Judges are also elected for a really long time. So, it’s really important to do your research on the candidates. Who we elect in November really matters in the long term.”
The forum will be moderated by attorney Maureen McBride, a co-chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Appellate Advocacy Committee.