MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When you voted Tuesday, you probably noticed a lot of judges on the ballot.

This puzzled Kirk from Oak Park Heights because he knows the governor also appoints them.

On Washington County’s sample ballot, there were 28 judge seats. Twenty-four were unopposed.

Mark Ritchie is Minnesota’s secretary of state. He says our system is a combination of appointments and elections.

“What we have in our state is a system of largely appointments by the governor,” Ritchie said.

For each state Supreme Court, court of appeals and district court opening, a commission of 49 people comes up with a few options — then the governor chooses one.

“Then that person stands for election the next time there’s a general election,” Ritchie said. “Somebody can choose to run against them, so you have a bit of a contest.”

But that often doesn’t happen at the district level. Minnesota judges must run every six years, then retire at age 70.

“One of the big discussions in our country was how to keep the judiciary independent and accountable,” he said.

In 12 states, there are no elections for judges, only appointments. In all the others, there’s some sort of a vote.

There’s a lot of disagreement on the best way to do this. There’s a push in Minnesota for a system where the governor appoints someone, then voters decide whether to keep him or her on the bench. No one else would run against them.

Secretary of State Ritchie says it would keep the process more independent and non-partisan, but we’d actually have to change our state’s constitution to do that.

Heather Brown

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