Opinion | The Nov. 2 elections are important

By India Krug, Senior Staff Columnist

Did you know we have an election on Tuesday, Nov. 2? If you didn’t, you’re not alone. While Pennsylvania’s appellate judicial elections do not receive nearly as much attention as others, they are vitally important. If you’re worried about your right to privacy or your right to vote, you need to cast a ballot in this election.

Absentee and mail-in ballots must be requested by Oct. 26 at 5 p.m., but it’s recommended to request and return them as soon as possible. Absentee ballots are for those who will not be in their municipality on election day, and mail-in ballots are available to anyone, but must still be applied for every election. They must be received by your county election’s office by 8 p.m. on Nov. 2.

For those who wish to vote in person, polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 2, and you can find your polling place online. If it is your first time voting at a polling place, you must bring proof of identification. It’s important to have a voting plan, whether that means scheduling time to go around classes or figuring out the bus route beforehand. Voters can view a sample ballot beforehand.

All registered voters in Pennsylvania are able to vote for judicial candidates, and a lot is riding on these elections. The loudest calls to organize come during presidential and midterm elections, but I would argue that voter turnout is even more important in judicial elections, when the decisions that come out of them have the power to influence our lives in very direct, harrowing ways.

For example — those of us with uteruses. The best protection right now isn’t a condom, it’s a vote for judges who have a track record of defending reproductive rights. We know that Pennsylvania is probably not very far behind Texas when it comes to abortion access, considering multiple pro-life bills have been introduced and voted on in the General Assembly. One even passed, only to die at Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk.

Wolf has been the main safeguard against the state’s Republican-controlled General Assembly, vetoing recent bills such as mandatory voter ID and the prohibition of pandemic safety measures. If Democrats are unable to obtain a majority in the legislature or elect a governor in 2022, such bills could become law and the courts would take on a much more prominent role.

That means it’s imperative that we elect dedicated and progressive judges to do the work of protecting our rights. There are a total of four Democratic candidates running for seats on Pennsylvania’s Supreme, Commonwealth and Superior courts. 

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the highest in the state and, in recent years, rejected the legislature’s gerrymandered map and upheld Gov. Wolf’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies. Justices serve 10-year terms, and can hold their seats if they win a retention vote. This is true of all three courts. This election will not change the partisan balance of the court, as there are currently five Democrats and two Republicans, with one Republican retiring and leaving an open seat.

Judge Maria McLaughlin is running for that seat. She currently sits on the Superior Court, and serves as the liaison to the Pennsylvania Bar Association. McLaughlin is running to protect, among other things, women’s rights and voting rights. Her campaign is centered on how her experience as a first-generation college student and single mother influences her public service.

The Superior Court is one of the two intermediate appellate courts in the state. It rules on civil and criminal appeals, but unlike the Supreme Court, does not have discretion over which cases it hears. This makes it the busiest court in the state. One Republican on the court is retiring, leaving open the possibility of a Democratic majority.

Judge Timika Lane is running for that seat. Currently, she is a judge of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, and previously served as chief counsel to State Sen. Anthony  Williams. A graduate of Howard University, she has been endorsed by labor unions and advocacy groups, such as the Pennsylvania chapters of the AFL-CIO and National Organization for Women.

The Commonwealth Court is the other intermediate appellate court. It handles legal matters involving state and local government and regulatory agencies. It is composed of nine seats with a wide Republican majority, and two positions are open.

Judges Lori Dumas and David Spurgeon are running for these seats. Dumas currently serves on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. Her campaign is centered on her long career in anti-violence and justice for Philadelphia’s children and families.

Spurgeon currently sits on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. His campaign is centered on his experience with domestic violence cases and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges has named him a Judicial Fellow for his leadership.

I wish I could say that judicial elections shouldn’t be partisan. But they are, and as long as there are social justice issues on the table, it’s good to know who will fight for you. Republicans know that, otherwise they wouldn’t be proposing new judicial districts that would be easily gerrymandered. 

Judicial decisions and local governing have the most influence over our day-to-day lives, and yet “off-year elections” tend to have terrifyingly low turnout. In reality, there are no off years when the stakes are this high. I know that we’re all tired from last year’s dumpster fire of an election, but get your fire extinguishers ready, because there’s more to put out!

India is The Pitt News’ informed rebel girl. Write to her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @indialarson_, but you better like her tweets.