I’ve been taking Voter Protection Hotline calls (877-321-VOTE) up and down the state of California for weeks now and can assure you:  if you’re freaked out by the judicial yay/nay votes on your ballot, you are not alone.

Democrats everywhere are distressed by the performance of certain federally appointed judges, particularly. And suddenly faced with a slew of judges whose names we do not even recognize, to find ourselves expected to opine on their retention is quite panic inducing.

I get it: Trump’s appointees, like Judge Eileen Cannon, are scary to contemplate. Some of our federal supreme court justices are even scarier and the long-term drive to reshape the federal judiciary is scarier still. Elections matter. And federal appointments are for life.

But the Federalist Society’s is an agenda that has been implemented within the federal courts; the ballot we are ruminating right now is for state- and local-level judges. To say there is no such agenda here in California is to violate the “never say never” maxim: sure, this level of chicanery could overtake us here in California. But for the time-being, that agenda is not knocking at this election’s door. And there is a more regulated process, with term limits, at the state appellate level in particular.

There is an informative section on California’s Courts at the nonprofit, nonpartisan, online political encyclopedia, ballotpedia, here. State appointments are filled initially by the Governor from an appointed commission’s recommendations. All judicial appointments come before the electorate at the next gubernatorial election, and if ratified at that time they are re-evaluated 12 years later. There are stages for internal review. And state appellate court justices tend to get elevated from local (lower) trial courts, where they were subject to either the same appointment commission or election, ratified subsequently by voter’s re-election.

California’s judicial branch maintains a website here, where you can view bios about all sitting judges. There you can identify each judge’s appointing governor. But as judge appointments are non-partisan, the political affiliation of the appointing governor might not necessarily reflect the appointed judge’s political affiliation.

To assess a judge’s qualification for the job is a political and technical task. Some local Democratic Clubs around the state with a particular interest and expertise in the matter may endorse for judicial races. The state-level CADEM does not, in part because the offices are non-partisan, and in part because these endorsements are technical.

Finally, if you are uncomfortable voting for a candidate about whom you know little and whose candidacy you are uncertain how to assess, it is fine to leave that race blank. Your ballot will still be counted. In the race/s left blank, your vote will not count toward the denominator. So percentages for/against will be calculated from all those who cast a vote; yours will be left out of the calculation. That’s fair, and it’s perfectly moral.

As a citizen of this democracy, you should VOTE! Your obligation is not canceled by abstaining from a specific race in which you are uncomfortable selecting a candidate.

VOTE by November 8, 8pm