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Poll: North Carolinians prefer to elect their judges over appointment process

Image courtesy of High Point University Survey Research Center

A new poll shows that the majority of North Carolinians prefer to elect their judges over any sort of appointment process.

The High Point University Survey Research Center and Department of Criminal Justice conducted a statewide poll and analysis on residents’ level of awareness and support for potential changes to the way the state appoints judges.

Lawmakers have been considering plans for judicial redistricting and various merit selection plans — either of which would significantly change the way judges are elected. The short session began Wednesday and it is expected such changes could be put up for a vote.

The poll — which surveyed 513 adults between Feb. 19 and 25 — found that 49 percent of participants were unaware that lawmakers were considering changing the way it appoints judges from direct elections to appointment by the governor or the General Assembly.

A total of 47 percent of respondents had some level of awareness, including 11 percent who said they were highly aware, 16 percent moderately aware and 20 percent slightly aware.

A 75 percent majority strongly prefer to directly elect judges, while 8 percent prefer appointment by the governor and 10 percent prefer appointment by the General Assembly.

“We found that almost half of the registered voters we surveyed were aware of the issue,” said Bobby Little, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice. “In our analysis, we didn’t find any similarities in the demographics of those who prefer to keep judge appointments election-based. They represented a wide variety of people across the board.”

Little and Thomas Dearden, assistant professor of criminal justice, analyzed and recently produced a preliminary report about their findings, which they plan to submit for publication.

“This study made sense for our department as judges are an integral part of the criminal justice system,” Little said. “Judges are critical to the outcomes of justice, and we hope these results are of value to the general public who may or may not be familiar with this conversation.”

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