Many people who live in states with appointed judges are appalled when they learn some states like North Carolina actually elect our judges. Honestly, I can't say I disagree with them. To me, electing judges somehow just doesn't feel right. Judges should be above the political fray as much as possible. That's why Federal judges are appointed for life in most cases. It removes them from the election cycle pressures of changing administrations.
However, an elected judiciary is the system we live with here in North Carolina. That being the case citizens should be allowed to know the general philosophy they are voting for when selecting a candidate. That option was taken away from citizens by the Democrats back in the late1990s and early 2000s - not out of any sense of fairness, but because too many Republicans were winning despite the large Democratic registration advantage.
The result of making the races non-partisan was to obscure who the judges are philosophically by removing information available to the voters - hardly a very small-d democratic thing to do. As pointed out in this piece from NC Civitas - Will Republicans Become a Lasting Majority in North Carolina? - voting in judicial races plummeted after this change because people no longer knew anything about these races.
While I am not an advocate of straight party voting, I do think people should be given all information available to make their decisions and partisan affiliation can be a critical piece of information. To know that is true, look no further than both parties' voter guides. They include conservative or progressive judges in the guides and ironically it is often this non-partisan information that causes people to take the partisan guides. I can't count the number of times I've tried to hand out Republican voter guides and initially been told "no thanks, I know who I am voting for" then when I say the guide has information about conservative judges people readily and thankfully take them.
End result? We now seem to have a system that leaves the information distribution on non-partisan races up to the system's most partisan elements.
Now that the Republican Party is firmly in charge in State Government, it has a choice - return to partisan judicial races and let the chips fall where they may or even consider moving to a judicial appointment system (something the NC Bar Association wants). One would truly put the voters back in charge. The other would help remove some of the politics from judicial decision making.
The least best option is to keep the system we have.