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.