IF YOU VOTE in Maryland, your ballot on Nov. 6 will contain an important question or two about judges. And if you are from Prince George's County, you will find a judgeship "contest" that shouldn't have to be on the ballot but is. We offer a simple recommendation suppported by nearly every non-partisan group that has studied these questions: Vote in all instances for the sitting judges, each of whom has served the public and the courts well.

In Prince George's, two qualified and diligent sitting circuit court judges, Arthur M. Ahalt and G. R. Hovey Johnson, have been thrust into a "campaign" -- challenged by State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr., who failed a few years ago to win a nominating commission endorsement for a different judgeship. This "contest" occurs because Maryland law still allows any attorney who wants to be a judge to run for the bench by trying to unseat active judges in an election. These same three people already were in election contests in May and -- how about this? -- lifelong Democrat Marshall lost in the Democratic primary but won in the Republican primary. So now he's running as a Republican.

It's a bad system that should be changed so that sitting judges are not tossed into popularity contests with partisan labels. A person's politics should have nothing to do with his or her competence to be a judge. Besides, such races can invite contestants to make frivolous or even unethical promises about how they would act on the bench.

Judges Ahalt and Johnson have managed to conduct their necessary "campaigns" in honorable and circumspect ways, which is how they have discharged their duties since they were appointed by Gov. Harry Hughes two years ago. They enjoy local and state bar association support, and each merits a vote on this part of the Prince George's ballot.

There is a better way to vote on judges, and it is the way the state's appellate judges are reviewed. They must stand on their records instead of running against opponents, and voters may endorse or reject them. The list varies around the state. Here are the names of those who deserve support: in the Court of Appeals, James F. Couch Jr.; in the Court of Special Appeals, William H. Adkins II, Paul E. Alpert, Rosalyn B. Bell, Theodore G. Bloom, John J. Garrity and James S. Getty.