A voter guide to Pennsylvania's 2021 judicial elections
By KATIE MEYER
Pennsylvania has begun sending out mail ballots for next month’s election, where voters will elect a slew of new judges who will play key roles in shaping policy for at least the next decade on three statewide appellate courts.
But while these judges wield considerable power, their elections tend to get little attention from voters. In the last two judicial election years that featured partisan contests, turnout hovered in the low 20% range, compared with more than 70% turnout in 2020’s record-setting election.
In Pennsylvania, judicial hopefuls run in partisan, statewide elections. After serving a 10-year term, they run in nonpartisan, yes-or-no retention elections, which they almost never lose. In many other states, judges are elected in nonpartisan contests, or are selected based on merit by a commission or governor and legislature.
In Pennsylvania, the partisan election means judges must run under the umbrella of a political party, raise money through campaign committees, and collect endorsements from political groups. There are crucial differences from other political races, though. Judicial candidates aren’t allowed to solicit donations directly. They also can’t promise to rule a certain way on any specific issues.
Below is a guide to the roles and recent histories of the courts, and the candidates who are hoping for a chance to shape them.