Bills in Minnesota would end use of incumbent designation on ballots for judges seeking reelection; a look at states that use such designations

Four Six states provide for the general designation of a judge as an incumbent on the election ballot: Arkansas, California, Michigan, and Minnesota. At the same time Texas is considering joining in on this practice, two bills filed in the last several weeks in Minnesota would end the practice in that state.

1/30/2017 update: 6 states, Georgia and Oregon included.

First, some background.

While all four six states mentioned use some sort of incumbent designation, they do so in four different manners. This is how it appears in Arkansas under A.C.A. § 7-7-305 (sample ballot from here). Note that in Arkansas you may use the word “Judge” even if running for a higher court (i.e. a Circuit Judge running for Supreme Court Justice). For example when she ran for the Supreme Court in 2014, Court of Appeals Judge Robin Wynne was identified on the ballot as “Court of Appeals Judge Robin Wynne.”


And this from California under Election Code § 13107 (sample ballot from here)

UntitledIn Michigan several statutes depending on court type allow for the word “Incumbent Position” balloting, among them MCLS § 168.409b (Court of Appeals), § 168.424a (Circuit), § 168.426d (Municipal Courts of Record), § 168.433 (Probate), and § 168.467b (District). (UPDATE: A reader also points to this constitutional provision that “There shall be printed upon the ballot under the name of each incumbent justice or judge who is a candidate for nomination or election to the same office the designation of that office.”) The result is that a judge runs with their current office below their name, as for example from this sample ballot.


Update 1/30/2017

Georgia law (21-2-285.1) provides that “The incumbency of a candidate seeking election for the public office he or she then holds shall be indicated on the ballot.” An example from this sample ballot.

Minnesota Statutes 204B.36(5) provides that “If a chief justice, associate justice, or judge is a candidate to succeed again, the word “incumbent” shall be printed after that judge’s name as a candidate.” An example from this sample ballot.


Update 1/30/2017

Oregon law (ORS 254.125) provides that “The word “incumbent” shall follow the name of each candidate for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Oregon Tax Court or circuit court who is designated the incumbent by the Secretary of State under ORS 254.085. ” An example from this sample ballot.


As for Minnesota, HB 676 and SB 1091 of 2015 would repeal this provision.

In the last two decades there have been dozens of attempts to remove the provision, none successful and most never advancing out of committee. Often the proposal was attached to some other provision, such as an effort to move to merit/commission selection or as part of a larger package of changes to the election laws. One interesting iteration that appeared only in 2011 provided that if the incumbent designation was repealed, the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age would be increased (discussed here).

Details below the fold.

Outright repeal (all died in committee)

HB 3660 / SB 2919 of 1998
SB 3470 of 2002
HB 2335 / SB 2700 of 2004
HB 2557 / SB 2800 of 2004
HB 3813 / SB 3383 of 2010
SB 523 of 2011

Repeal as part of larger package of changes to election laws

HB 210 / SB 509 of 2011 HOUSE: Approved by House Government Operations & Elections Committee 2/14/2011. Removed by State Government Finance Committee 2/14/11. SENATE: Amended out by Local Government and Elections Committee 3/16/2011.
HB 302 / SB 169 of 2011 Died in committees
SB 354 of 2011 Died in committees

Repeal linked to increase in judicial retirement age

HB 1536 / SB 627 of 2011 Died in committees

Repeal as part of change to merit/commission selection

HB 3023 / SB 2401 of 2007
SB 2693 of 2007
HB 224 / SB 70 of 2009
HB 3829 of 2010
HB 1666 / SB 1465 of 2011
HB 1083 / SB 1082 of 2013