• Get prepared and Vote in those down-ballot judicial races 

When voters head to the polls, they’ll encounter a slew of down-ballot names they’ve likely never heard of: judges standing for retention and, in some areas, judges up for election.

Both Missouri and Kansas have non-partisan merit selection systems, although parts of both states still elect judges to office.

In a retention vote, the judges are not competing to hold their position against any opposition, they’re just “standing” for a vote of confidence from the electorate. The judges are appointed, with the process for appointment differing depending on the court they’re being appointed to and the jurisdiction. After that, the judges stand for retention every few years, the interval depending on whether they are trial, appellate or supreme court judges.

Judges standing for retention are rarely voted out of office. Since the plan’s adoption in Missouri 80 years ago, no appellate judge has been voted out of office, and only three trial judges – in Missouri, the trial courts are known as circuit courts – have been voted out of office.

Some judges in both Missouri and Kansas are elected in partisan elections. That means they run as Democrat, Republican or other, and they can face opposition in a primary. In Kansas, where judges are elected, the overwhelming majority of the judges are Republican. Since people tend to know so little about the judges, they tend to vote for them along party line, and since there are more Republicans than Democrats in Kansas, the Republican judges typically win. An exception is Wyandotte County, which is a heavily Democratic County, and the judges are predominantly Democrats.

What also happens is that Democrats, as well as Republicans, typically take a pass on these races, and don’t bother to vote at all. That’s not necessarily a good thing to do. In Kansas, only circuit court judges, just in some areas of the state, are elected. Sedgwick County is one of the areas where these judges are elected.

What do circuit court judges do?

They preside over civil actions, something an individual might more likely have a chance of going to court for, rather than criminal cases. For example, they preside over divorces, child support, child custody, equitable distribution of property, alimony, annulments, emancipation proceedings, involuntary commitment proceedings, and non-domestic civil disputes of $25,000 or less.

See why they’re important?

There are very few African-American judges in western Missouri and Kansas. African-American judges up for retention election in western Missouri this year are: Judge Kevin Harrell, first appointed in 2012, and Judge Kenneth Garrett II, first appointed in 2013. If you want to learn more about each of them, go to www.16thcircuit.org/circuit-judges

On the Missouri side, voters can consult yourmissourijudges.org, which provides information and performance evaluations for all the judges up for retention.

In Wyandotte County, 29th District, judges are elected. Eight judges are up for reelection, none of them are African American.

In Sedgwick County, 18th Judicial District, judges are elected. Currently, the only judge that’s a Democrat, happens to also be the only judge who is African American, Judge Monique Centeno. Last year, Judge Centeno was appointed by Gov. Laura Kelly to fill a vacancy on the bench. Not on the bench a year, she’s already up for reelection.

There are two other Democrats running for seats as judges in this district. Atty. James Thompson, who made a stellar run for U.S. House against Ron Estes, is now running for judge. Thompson is running against Sean Hatfield, who like Centeno, has only been on the bench since 2019.

Joni Cole, who currently serves as facility legal counsel at El Dorado Correctional Facility, is running against incumbent Phil Journey.

If enough Democrats make their way down the ballot to support the three Democrats, and enough Republicans just pass on the judges races, there’s a good chance the three Democrats might get elected.

Bonita Gooch

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...

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