West Virginia becomes 4th state in last 2 decades to end most or all partisan judicial races; state could get first of its kind public financing of trial court races too

Yesterday West Virginia’s House gave its final approval to HB 2010 as amended by the Senate to move the state to nonpartisan judicial elections at all levels. Under the new system judges would also run from divisions; under the current practice judges run in a “cattle call” thus if there are two vacancies on the Supreme Court it is the top 2 vote getters who win. Future elections would be for specifically designated seats (e.g. Circuit Court, Seat B).

West Virginia is the fourth state to move from partisan to nonpartisan elections in the last twenty or so years:

  • Arkansas: In 2000 voters approved Amendment 80, a rewrite of the state’s Judiciary Article, which included nonpartisan elections for judges.
  • Mississippi: Most state courts were moved to nonpartisan elections under the 1994 Nonpartisan Judicial Elections Act; Justice of the Peace Court races remain partisan.
  • North Carolina: The state’s courts were moved to nonpartisan ballots in a piecemeal fashion: Superior (1996), District (2001), and finally the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court (2002).

Also coming up for debate is expansion of the state’s public financing system for judicial races. The state had a pilot program for public financing of Supreme Court races which it made permanent in 2013. HB 2858 as filed in the House at the end of last week would create a new program for races in the state’s main trial court (Circuit). If adopted this could be a first; current and former public financing plans in New Mexico, North Carolina (repealed), and Wisconsin (repealed) all focused on appellate races only.