By Rae DeBrabander
In the upcoming election, six judges in Kalamazoo County are running unopposed. This may shock some voters, however for a seated judge, or incumbent, to run unopposed is rather common in this county.
“If you go all the way back to 1980, so 36 years, only 3 incumbent judges have been challenged and only 1 has won,” said current Kalamazoo County Judge Chris Haenicke.
There are six uncontested elections for local judges on the ballot. These uncontested races are occurring in the 8th District Court and the 9th Circuit Court, which represents the entire county of Kalamazoo.
Two of the races this November are to formally elect judges who were appointed to the position because an elected judge didn’t finish the term for some reason. The governor makes judge appointments. Haenicke and Judge Tiffany Ankley were both appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder and now will complete a partial term ending in 2019.
When challengers do run against an incumbent judge, they do not often win.
Some residents feel these lack of options are unfair. “I’m 19 and it’s my first time voting and I don’t have choices? That doesn’t seem fair. I’m curious how something like this even happens,” said Portage resident and first time voter Ali Chaney.
The campaign process to fill a judge position can get extensive and expensive. “It can cost up to $100,000 to run a campaign and you only have a less than 25 percent chance of winning. The odds are so stacked against beating an incumbent that I think that’s why no one tries,” said Haenicke, who is running in the 8th District.
Campaigning against incumbents involved the collecting of hundreds, or even thousands of signatures based on where the nominee lives. It also involves creating advertisements, attending events, and doing whatever a nominee can to get their name out there and receive the necessary amount of signatures.
All this time and materials is what can make the campaign process so expensive, and what sets its apart from the presidential campaign is there is little to no money from donors due to lack of interest in the race. All campaign funds are fronted by the candidate and are not paid back, another factor that can deter lawyers from running against an incumbent judge.
However, some feel as if there were a problem, a fellow judge or a lawyer would run to challenge an incumbent.
Kalamazoo resident and actor Noah King-Bates, 24, feels confident in the choices that are available on this year’s ballot. “If someone thought they were doing something wrong, they would run or find someone to run against them,” said King-Bates.