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Prop 416 Would End Judicial Elections in Coconino County, Replace it With Merit Selection

Voters in Coconino County will decide if they should switch to the system for selecting judges used in Arizona’s most populous counties, or if they will continue with the election system currently in place.

Proposition 416 would switch the county to a merit-based system mandated by the Arizona Constitution for statewide judges and judges in counties with a population exceeding 250,000.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates Coconino County’s population at 140,776.

If Prop. 416 passes, possible judges would be selected from a pool of applicants by a 15-person commission. Ten of the commissioners would be appointed by county supervisors and the remaining five would be lawyers chosen by the county bar association.

The commission would forward its top choices to the governor, who would then send his or her choice to the state senate.

The merit-based system does not preclude voters from judicial selection.

“The merit selection process is complimented by regular reviews of how judges are doing, and then voters through retention elections still have the ultimate say in terms of whether judges will keep their jobs or not,” says Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Scott Bales, an advocate for merit selection.

The commission is also responsible for reviewing a judge two years after appointment and every six years thereafter. A report is compiled and recommendation made before the judge stands for confirmation by ballot vote.

Bales says the system is meant to prevent judges from having to raise funds and campaign for elected office. He adds judges in smaller counties do not have the worry of an expensive campaign, which is why such elections are feasible.

He offered La Paz County, which has a Census-estimated population of 20,601, as an example.

“La Paz County has only one superior court judge. The elected process can work well in counties with smaller populations, but as counties grow, that’s more difficult.”

Prop 416 does not appear to have any organized opposition, Bales says he is not aware of any groups that advocate for election over merit-selection.