Students uninformed about judicial candidates


As early voting continues and primary elections are underway, judicial candidates receive relatively little attention compared to other candidates, such as those running for governor, according to a judicial clerk.

In the 2012 general election, about 58.6 percent of registered Texas voters voted for a presidential candidate, but 44 percent voted in the judicial race for the Court of Criminal Appeals. In 2010, 16.1 percent of people aged 18 to 29 reported voting, compared to 42.7 percent of those 30 and older, according to the Texas Civic Health Index, a report released by the University’s Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life.

According to Sherry Williamson, 11th Court of Appeals clerk, voters are not typically familiar with judicial candidates’ qualifications or the way the judicial system works.

“People know more about district courts because of [television shows like] ‘CSI’ and all of that, but they don’t really understand the appeals courts,” Williamson said.

According to government senior Catherine Benavidez, the biggest barrier to students voting is the voter registration process, which she said is complicated.

“Many people are confused about the process, what information they need and when they need to do it by,” Benavidez said. “This confusion has only been enhanced by the new voter ID requirements that have been implemented in Texas this past year.”

Williamson said if the candidate is an incumbent, voters should consider the judge’s past decisions.

“Look at the positions they took and how they held,” Williamson said. “If they’re just now running, then you’ll just have to look at their experience, what cases they’ve been an attorney for, [and] what the outcome was.”

Williamson said personal connections are important for voters who are not familiar with the judicial system or legal language.

“I would suggest going to, say, an attorney friend or an elected official who is a friend and say, ‘Tell me what you know about these people,’ and get them to tell [you] in simple terms,” Williamson said. “Then, if you want to do further research, look at some of the decisions they’ve made as a judge and as an attorney.”

English sophomore Kellie Teague said she’s not planning to vote in the primary elections or in the regular elections in November.

“I feel like I don’t have — that one person doesn’t have — an impact,” Teague said. “If everybody literally votes, then yes, the elections would be entirely different — yes, but we can’t get everybody to do that.”

Benavidez said she believes students should vote to have someone who best represents their beliefs.

“The politicians that we are picking right now will be with us during very critical points in our lives,” Benavidez said. “Wouldn’t you want a say in who’s going to be governor or railroad commissioner when you have to start paying taxes?”