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How to Vote for All You're Worth

Choosing candidates for positions like city prosecutor can be tricky for the average voter. Attorney Vanessa Haberbush explains how to pick the candidate with the right kind of experience and why you shouldn’t be fooled by famous names.

How often do you vote in elections for things like city attorney, city prosecutor, or even smaller offices? Do you know who is running or anything about them? These offices are very important to the running of a city, but most voters have no idea what the job entails or who is qualified for the job. How do you know how to vote in these elections? In these cases, like many “down ballot” choices, voters often make spur of the moment choices on little or no solid basis – but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Unlike more political offices, like seats in the legislature, these “legal” offices require certain experience and knowledge. It isn’t enough to simply hold certain opinions or values – you need to understand how the law works in practice. Cities like Long Beach, where the Lex Rex Institute is headquartered, have diverse populations, legal needs and challenges unique to its particular community, and other challenges that require someone who is intimately familiar with both the city and the requirements of the job to perform it well.

However, name recognition often has an innate attraction to voters, even when electing legal officers. But the best-known candidate is often not the best person for the job. For example, it is not uncommon for career politicians to hold law degrees – they may even be licensed attorneys. But very often, these candidates will not have worked in the law for years, if they ever did so at all. Their opponent, meanwhile, may be a seasoned attorney with the city prosecutor’s office. While the politician has the name recognition, he or she almost certainly has none of the experience or knowledge necessary to do the job. The attorney, by contrast, is far more likely to have the experience and knowhow to be effective in the position. While political affiliations can and do sometimes matter in these types of elections, competence is essential. Therefore, when voting, don’t simply vote a straight party ticket or automatically vote for the candidate whose name is most familiar. Look for candidates with proven experience doing the job at hand.

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