There’s an election this year!? (Yes! Yes, there is!)

Posted on May 10, 2017

Yes, there is! You’ve probably been seeing lots of signs for local races, like mayors, city council members, coroners, and prothonotaries (had to Google that one – it’s the chief clerk of court), but we’re also voting for judges this year.

This is admittedly a little strange and not what all states do, but it’s very important to not only vote for these members of the judicial branch, but to know who you’re voting for and what powers they will have. 

A note – there are many local judges running, including for Courts of Common Pleas. We wish we had the time to send questionnaires and interview these individuals, but statewide, there are almost 500, so unfortunately we are unable to do that. The Courts of Common Pleas is very important, handling everything from divorce, to criminal matters, to adoptions, to estate settlement, so we encourage you to check with local bar associations about whether or not they are recommending individuals, and check candidates’ websites. You can usually get a sense of where they might stand by statements they make or which endorsements they have. It can also be hard to tell when you’re in the ballot box who is truly a Republican and who is a Democrat, because most candidates cross-file, meaning they will be listed both places, so do some homework there, too! Your county should have information about candidates on their websites.

There are a few statewide judicial races that we wanted to provide a bit more information on for you.

  • State Supreme Court: The Supreme Court is a statewide, 7 seat court. Voters may vote for one candidate who will serve a ten-year term. The Supreme Court handles direct and discretionary appeals from lower courts. The Supreme Court plays a critical role in redistricting – you probably remember us talking about this in 2015 when more of these seats were open. The current court composition is 5 Democrats and 2 Republicans. One of the Republican seats is the one up for election this year.
  • Superior Court: The Superior Court is a statewide, 15 seat court. Voters may vote for four candidates who will serve a ten-year term. Superior Court handles civil and criminal appeals from lower courts, often in groups of 3 based on geography, but sometimes with as many as 9. The current composition is 7 Democrats and 4 Republicans, with four vacancies.
  • Commonwealth Court: The Commonwealth Court is a statewide, 9 seat court. Voters may vote for two candidates who will serve a ten-year term. Commonwealth Court handles issues related to governmental bodies and agencies, including serving as the trial court for lawsuits in which the state is a party. The current composition is 1 Democrat and 6 Republicans, with two vacancies.

We sent questionnaires to all candidates in these three races, and the results can be found on our voter’s guide. There are some clear differences, so please check that out and share it with your friends! And don’t forget to vote on May 16th. Polls are open from 7am to 8pm and you can find your polling place here.

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