With just hours to go before polling begins in the 2012 general election, voters will witness months of campaigning come to an end. Because national, gubernatorial and congressional elections all occur in this cycle, Missouri judicial elections tend to become an afterthought.
This election year, 51 judges in the state of Missouri are up for retention under the non-partisan court plan. With such a high number of judges and a ban on non-partisan judicial campaigning, a shortage of information on the judiciary often exists.
The non-partisan court plan is one system of choosing judges in the Show Me State. Judges who are elected through this system, known commonly as The Missouri Plan, do not run against opponents. Instead, they are nominated by a judicial commission and appointed by the governor. After serving a 12-month period on the bench, each judge stands alone in a retention election.
Because voters cast their final opinion in retention elections, the legitimacy of Missouri’s courts is held accountable to the people. Under Supreme Court rule, Judicial Performance Evaluation (JPE) committees were created to help give insight as to the qualifications and skills of the judges seeking retention.
Although JPE committees were created to encourage the public to form their own opinions on the judiciary, voter dropoff from the top of the state ballot to retention elections still exists. Because of this, the Missouri Bar has produced a website called www.ShowMeCourts.org. The website distributes the JPE committee’s evaluations for each candidate.
The website allocates narrative analyses for each of the 51 judges up for retention, as well as judges’ written opinions and numerical results of lawyer and juror surveys. With no state funding, the site is simply there to keep the public informed and increase voter turnout in retention elections.