If you are new to Nevada, you may be surprised to see billboards for judicial candidates during election season. Nevada is one of many states that elects judges. In contrast other states appoint their judges from a list of qualified candidates.
Nevada’s history of judicial elections began in 1864 when it became a state. The Nevada Constitution mandated that the State’s Supreme Court and District Court judges must be elected. Currently, there are judicial elections every 2 years in even-numbered years. Judges are elected for 6 year terms. Therefore, approximately one-third of the total judicial positions are open for election during one year. Judicial elections are non-partisan which means that voters from any party can vote for judges in both the primary and general elections.
The primary election takes place on the first Tuesday in June of an election year. The general election takes place on the first Tuesday in November of an election year. The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary election advance to the general election. If only two candidates are running for the position, they both advance to the general election without the primary election. If only person runs for the position in the primary election and he or she receives at least one vote, he or she wins the seat and there is no general election for that position.
In 1994 and 1996 there were constitutional initiatives to limit the terms of judges so they could not serve more than 2 terms (12 years). However, both initiatives failed. Consequently, judges can serve indefinitely if they are re-elected. In 2007 and 2009 there were legislatively proposed constitution amendments that would have required a performance evaluation of judges by a special commission prior to reelection. The proposed amendments also failed. Consequently, judges do not have to go through any form of special review prior to being reelected by the public.
In Nevada, a person can only donate $5000 towards a judicial election. Despite these limits, critics of judicial elections state that judicial elections pander to special interests. This is because judges must raise significant money for campaign expenses from special interest groups as well as from the Democratic and Republican parties. Consequently, critics state that judges are more prone to rule in favor of groups that supported their election. Proponents of judicial elections state that they keep judges accountable to the will of the people and are less prone to make decisions that are unique, novel or go against the will of the people.