As we can read today in “Judge rules no primary to pick jury commissioners” by Mark Solforo (AP), Daily Local News, 4/5/13:
HARRISBURG — A state judge has ruled that county jury commissioner races will not appear on next month’s spring primary ballot and the candidates instead will be chosen by the political parties…
But this is an elective row office? The two part-time jury commissioners by law have represented both parties, traditionally in order to reassure residents that jury selection is not tainted by political bias.
In an age of scandal in all institutions, who would be surprised if, somewhere in our great state where jailing political leaders is common and even a Supreme Court Justice is on her way to jail for public corruption, an unelected bureaucrat beholden to those in power made accommodations in a jury pool?
Those wishing to abolish the office say that computers do all the work anyhow. Some argument (as in the national effort, happily quashed in Chester County, to take away voting by paper-verifiable ballots). Then why not turn a whole lot of elective offices over to robots? Do we want robocracy or democracy?
So why are residents in danger of losing the reassurance of fairness and why did voters lose their rights this year?
I see two underlying reasons:
1) The Corbett administration and legislators friendly to his ideology have been eager to pare back government, and it was easy to pick on jury commissioners (of which, in Chester County, a Democrat has long been the lone non-Republican row officer, in addition to one commissioner out of three, also required by law).
The current snafu thus lines up with a whole list of Corbett-Harrisburg overreachings, such as the Voter ID mess, still tied up in court; the highly partisan redistricting in 2011, also overturned in court; and Corbett’s rescission of adultBasic health care, recently overturned in court (see my comments in “Court upholds rule of law and adultBasic Care“).
2) The two-party system, which is an artifact of our predominant “winner-take-all” vote count.
How did the court dare turn a democratic process over to the two parties? Because they are the only game in town.
Why? Because Independents aren’t doing their job, which is to counteract excessive partisanship and keep minds open to non-partisan considerations.
Let’s take the Chesco part of the West Chester Area School District. It has 11,031 registered Independents and Other (meaning anyone who is not a registered R or D). How many of those voted in November 2011, the last time county row officers were on the ballot? 1258, or 11%. How about 2009, when jury commissioner was last on the ballot? 814, or 7%.
Because of voters moving, you can add 1% a year to these turnout figures, but they are still anemic even compared to the ever undernourished overall off-year turnout rates, whose rose in the School District from 21% to 26% in 2001 compared to 2009.
So in short, what off-year candidate and what court is going to pay attention to a group of voter–Independents and Other–who overwhelmingly don’t care anyhow?
Personally, I think it’s time for Independents and Other to occupy a row office seat, a Court of Common Pleas seat, and Commissioner seat. But, until they get more active, they won’t. That’s just how it is.
But won’t all voters get to choose jury commissioners in November as usual, you may ask?
No, because candidates will not be vetted in a primary election, and the candidate chosen by the two major parties will automatically be elected in November.
Theoretically, an Independent or Other could get on the ballot by filing papers over the summer, and D’s and R’s could vote for that candidate if they don’t like their own party’s pick, but the chances of that are vanishingly small.