For those who consider themselves informed voters (or would like to become so), here’s a pop quiz: What do the names "Gray, Bailey and Stroud" have in common?
They may sound like the letterhead of a stuffy law firm. In reality, however, they’re names that appear as statewide candidates for judicial office on the May 2 primary ballot. Gus Gray is one of five candidates running for the N.C. Supreme Court seat being vacated by Justice George Wainwright. Kris Bailey and Donna Stroud are among six candidates in races for seats on the N.C. Court of Appeals.
If that’s news to you, you’re hardly alone. Judicial races in general tend to generate much less interest than races for county commission, school board, state legislature or governor. That’s partly because judicial races receive far less media coverage than other contests, and the candidates have tended to refrain from the bare-knuckled, cash-fueled brawls that typify higher-profile campaigns, although there are troubling indications that’s changing even in races that are supposed to be nonpartisan. Unfortunately, the lack of interest also stems from the fact that judicial races tend to be an afterthought for many voters. We don’t connect fairness and efficiency in our court system with the decisions we make on election day — but we should. The court system exerts a powerful influence over the interpretation of laws affecting a host of vital issues, from the death penalty to eminent domain.
In local races such as the one featuring four candidates for Superior Court judge in Rowan County, potential voters usually at least know who’s running. They can get information on the candidates through several sources, including campaign advertisements, newspaper coverage, public forums and casual conversations with friends or coworkers — or even the candidates themselves. But in statewide judicial races, particularly in a crowded primary, voters are likely to be confronted with a slate of unknowns — unless they do some homework. (more…)