It’s no small matter that the final stretch before Election Day comes in the build-up to, and afterglow of, Halloween.
What other holiday more accurately reflects the spirit of American elections than the ghoulish, netherworldly exaltation of All Hallows Eve?
And like the most terrifying haunted house, the dark arts of campaign politics are not for the faint of heart.
A common spooky campaign practice I’ve noticed is to put a candidate with the same name as an incumbent on the ballot. The fake candidate will invariably siphon some of the incumbents’ electoral support, thereby increasing the chances of the opponent.
It doesn’t always work, but it’ll always scare the hell out of an incumbent.
Until recently, those kinds of shenanigans rarely found their way into judicial campaigns. Typically those contests operated above the common fray of Philistine behavior, deceptive ads and big money.
But now, even judicial elections are subject to eerie campaign tactics.
A group that gives me that creepy campaign vibe is Citizens for Judicial Excellence, the Washington political action committee hell-bent on electing local judges who are more sympathetic to defendants, or who are intimidated by the group’s financial might.
The political action committee, composed largely of defense attorneys who specialize in driving-under-the-influence cases, had seemed a benign influence since its 2010 inception. But that public perception changed this year when the group opposed sitting King County district Judge Ketu Shah, whom founding group member Stephen Hayne had singled out for support just a year earlier.
The candidate the PAC chose to back instead is Stephen Hayne’s spouse, Sarah. Although Sarah Hayne has been an attorney for nearly 20 years, she has limited recent courtroom experience, and opted to forgo the King County Bar Association’s traditional review of judicial candidate credentials.
In the final weeks before voters cast their ballots, Sarah Hayne’s campaign has drawn on the dark arts campaign playbook. In a direct affront to the bar, she has misleadingly appropriated bar language in her campaign literature.
“Exceptionally Well Qualified” is the bar’s highest judicial candidate grade. It’s also the exact, all-caps headline describing Sarah Hayne by retired Kent Municipal Court Judge Robert McSeveney on her campaign flyer.
The bar will only act if a complaint is filed. None has been.
This type of judicial campaign hocus-pocus first materialized last year — less than two months before Election Day — when Citizens for Judicial Excellence invited “judges, prosecutors, county council members and attorneys” to a complementary appetizer and cash bar social event at the Newcastle Golf Club.
Made aware of the event in advance, the state Ethics Advisory Committee determined that “attending an event sponsored by this organization undermines the public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of judicial officers.”
Though the event never materialized, it was an attempt to bewitch judges into unethical behavior and to demonstrate the groups’ menacing campaign muscularity.
Every special interest does what it can to fulfill its agenda, but misleading voters and attempting to spook judges makes my skin crawl. Sadly, they fit right into a traditional American election always conducted in the season of the witch.