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Friday, October 3, 2008

Incumbent designation 'shall' be on the ballot

For the past several weeks, Hennepin County District Court Judge Deborah Hedlund, who is running for the Supreme Court seat currently held by Justice Lorie Gildea, has been challenging her opponent to forgo using the “incumbent” designation on the November ballot.

In August, Golden Valley Jill Clark -- who also ran for the spot but didn’t make it through the primary -- brought a formal court challenge that among other things, also sought to strike the incumbent designation from judicial ballots. Clark’s petition was unsuccessful, but like Hedlund, she continues to request that Gildea voluntarily drop the label.

I met with Gildea last week and asked her to address the request. In response, she relied on the statute that discusses the incumbent designation, Minnesota Statute 204B.36, subd. 5, which says “the word ‘incumbent’ shall be printed after that judge's name as a candidate.”

“The statute that the Legislature has written is directed to election officials,” Gildea said. “And the statute says what the election officials are to include on the ballot. It says [they] ‘shall’ [include the incumbent designation], and shall means shall. Also it’s the truth, I am the incumbent in this race.”

She makes a very good, perhaps irrefutable, point. (The statute is silent about a candidate’s ability to opt out of using the designation.)

I understand that Minnesota is one of only a few, if not the only, state that includes the “incumbent” designation on the ballot in judicial races. If we are going to stick with the election system for choosing judges in Minnesota, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate that requirement. At a minimum, it would be interesting to hear some discussion on the idea.


Anonymous said...

I trust that, if she loses this race, Judge Hedlund will request that she never again be designated an "incumbent" in Hennepin County.

Anonymous said...

tru dat

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't anyone ask the obvious? If the word incumbent presents such a grave and paramount unfairness to challengers in judicial elections, then why aren't we questioning whether the general public ought to be electing judges in the first place? I don't seem to hear the same complaint coming from legislative, mayoral, or gubernatorial challengers.....maybe the public simply shouldn't be picking our judges!