“We are free to choose and willingly accept responsibility for our choices.” At the outset of 2020, there seemed to be so much promise: a fresh start and the promise of new hope and enthusiasm as citizens the world over hoped to move forward with greater understanding, empathy and cooperation. Since I am writing this from America, this will naturally tend to skew towards my experience as a citizen of the United States; however, I would argue that due to the global nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, its accompanying economic destruction, and the distrust and distress that are boiling throughout the entire world are not just an American issues. I promise I have done my best to try and research and adapt this topic to the widest audience possible; and if, after reading my contribution this month, any one of you would like further help tracking down resources, please don’t hesitate to contact me. The events of the last month in the United States have brought forth such an overwhelming mixture of emotions that I have found myself completely changing the direction that I had intended when I first thought about writing an article on voting (and voter apathy) back in May.
I have ALWAYS, since the age of 18, exercised my right to vote — in every single election. However, as a participant in so many of these political activities, it is hard to not notice the increasing amount of voter apathy, distrust and intolerance – not only of our elected officials, but of other Americans who simply choose to think differently than I do. The American system of government, a Democratic Republic, works best when we can encourage the greatest majority of our citizens to get involved and hold those elected accountable for the votes they cast and the choices they make. This can be easier said than done; but as I have learned over the years, it is nearly impossible to do with many of the individuals that we elect/rubber stamp into positions of authority such as judges, prosecutors, public defenders, district attorneys, attorneys general, electable law enforcement offices and many other state and municipal positions that trickle down into governors and mayors, legislatures and city councils, sheriffs, and several other electable civil servants.
WHY ARE OUR VOTES FOR THESE LESSER-KNOWN POSITIONS
JUST AS OR MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE MAJOR RACES?
If you have watched the violence, the heartbreak and the protests breaking out across the country, if you are concerned for the safety of your neighborhood, your business, your children and the future of your community, you need to know that these state and municipal leaders and local law enforcement have EXPONENTIALLY more influence on the outcome of these events than anyone in national government. Even if we’re talking about the National Guard, it is the governor who deploys them, not Congress or the president. Your local leaders NEED to hear YOUR voices…. and your voices should be EDUCATED!
If you are like me, you often head into the voting booth with your choices for president, congressional representation and maybe your governor decided. If there is a statewide initiative on your ballot that is controversial like gay marriage or something having to do with the impact of illegal immigration, chances are you’ve got an opinion on that too. But guess what? At the end of all those decisions, there are at least two more pages where you are asked to retain any number of judges or to vote for one attorney over another for the office of state attorney general. Sheriff? How much do you really know about any of these people? Unless you’ve had the unfortunate experience of being in their courtroom, or being connected to someone who has, you likely know very little. Therefore, I thought I would take an opportunity to provide us all with a little education.
I have a very good friend, Melissa Yeates Larsen, who has graciously agreed to help me with this project due to her experience as the daughter of a Utah judge. Her father Robert S. Yeates, served for years as a Third District Juvenile Court Judge and as Director of the Utah State Sentencing Commission. He was appointed to the Board of Pardons and Parole by Governor John M. Huntsman. He also served as the Executive Director of the Utah State Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. I asked her to explain a little bit about how judges are selected, retained, and the like, and I think her answers will help us all to understand a little better the power that we hold when we enter the voting booth.
Judges in the State of Utah are appointed to their benches by the governor. It is then up to voters to vote as to whether or not to retain them three years after their appointment. After that they are put up for a vote every six years (supreme court justices every 10 years). The best way for a voter to make informed decisions is to look up the judges on the judges.utah.gov website. I think the website is a gold mine! It has a wealth of information and is worth a visit from each and every voter because it explains the whole process, has a public forum where people can submit public comments on judges, and has an article about Implicit Bias which is aimed at the attorneys that evaluate judges, but I think is helpful for any voter to read.
They ask attorneys and jurors to evaluate judges and they also have evaluators that go into court and watch judges in action and voters can sign up to do that if they are interested
The sentencing guidelines are detailed and complicated. This is not a forum for judges to defend themselves in controversial cases. They just have to stay silent and hope that people understand the complexities of the job. People need to take the time to familiarize themselves with the judges on the merits of their total caseload and not make decisions to recall based on one negative experience. Who among us would like to be judged by the worst decision we ever made?
Voting for the retention of judges is a pretty clear-cut process when you do the (easy) research. Voting for a county sheriff is all political. There are no review boards that I know of to learn more about them other than their own campaign websites. Same with the state’s attorneys general. It’s a bipartisan and political race and the only way to make a decision on these is to keep watch on the news.
Now, given that I am writing this from the state of Utah, these experiences are fairly Utah specific. However, I am certain that there are very similar standards in many of the states that Big Ocean has cottages in. I have done a little research and have listed the judicial/court websites for every state currently involved with BOW (officially) below. When you receive your mail-in ballot, sit down with a beverage of your choice and look up all of the candidates. See where they stand in relation to the issues that are important to you. Don’t just let your vote in November be a rubber stamp.
Finally, if you have young people of voting age in your house, or old people who think their vote doesn’t matter, don’t let them make excuses. Send your kids to www.rockthevote.com. It has some great resources on how to engage youth and educate them on the democratic process. If you have older folks in your sphere of influence, don’t let them use “in my day” as an excuse to get out of political engagement. We all have a voice and we should use it until we can speak no more.
- Utah – judges.utah.gov
- Missouri – courts.mo.gov
- Texas – txcourts.gov
- Arizona – azcourts.gov
- California – courts.ca.gov
- Florida – flcourts.org
- Maryland – courts.state.md.us
- New York – courts.state.ny.us
- Nevada – nvcourts.gov
- Virginia – courts.state.va.us
A few other great Utah resources:
Here is a quote by Elie Wiesel, famous survivor of the Holocaust:
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”
In his memory, think about his words the next time you back down for the sake of not causing a scene, or not voting, or not signing a petition, or not boycotting places or people that perpetuate hate because it’s easier to just not. Being on a “side” is as much a duty as it is a human right. It’s about discussing over a dinner table, at the very least, oppression, racism, bigotry, misogyny — heck, even a tax on tampons — even if it ruins the mood. Picking a side isn’t a bad thing when it comes to the important stuff.
Elie Wiesel’s experience as a Holocaust survivor was about more than the Holocaust. It was about picking sides, being a critical thinker, and knowing when to stand up for other people. It’s about acting and speaking up. And the way things are going, we could all do more of that.
Please, please, please…. let us know what you’re concerned about. Let us know what kind of information you need to make the choices that will best influence the legacy you leave to your children.