On Tuesday, voters throughout the Commonwealth did their American duty and cast their votes for the men and women they want to see helm the ship of state for the next few years, including what former Boston City Councilor Richard Ianella calls one of most important elected jobs in the Commonwealth
He is, of course, talking about the Register of Probate.
So who is the Register of Probate? And why should you care, other than the fact that you are expected to vote for one?

First of all, there's not just one. There are 14 of them. They run each county’s Probate and Family Court system, something Ianella, who was also the Suffolk County Register of Probate for 14 years, said is more important than people realize.

"It is the only court that at some time everyone, and I mean every citizen, is going to have to walk into,” he said.
Getting a divorce? Probate court. Want to establish a will? Probate court. Collecting your inheritance? Adopting a child? Changing your last name? Probate court.

Around 75 to 80 percent of the people who walk in any probate court in Mass. are without a lawyer, Ianella said. That means it falls to the register to ensure that the often labyrinth probate court system is open and understandable to the public.

Patrick McDermott is the Norfolk County Register of Probate.

"Each individual register, depending on his or her style has a lot of control in terms of how that office is run in terms of the day to day operation and in terms of the programs you advocate for,” he said.
So, when he says programs, what are we talking about?

"I have a domestic violence clinic every Tuesday that works with victims of domestic violence who have family law related issues. We put together a guardianship clinic every Wednesday  A lawyer of the day – every day – who works from 9 to 3 in my office working with unrepresented litigants,” McDermott said.
With budgets tight, and controlled at the state level, many of those programs are teased into existence through partnerships, grant money, and sheer pluck. And if McDermott is right, and each Register of Probate has a big hand in how each system runs, what exactly makes for a good Register?

McDermott, like about half of the Commonwealths’ Registers is a lawyer.

"I think a background in the law is helpful. I don’t think it’s a requirement; I wouldn’t go so far as to say you have to a lawyer to be a good register of probate or clerk of court. It certainly helps though,” he said. "I think the biggest thing, I think you really have to be a good manager of people."
And the office has seen it’s share of the bad, and the ugly. Former Middlesex Country Register of Probate John Buonomo went to prison in 2009 for stealing thousands of taxpayer dollars while on the job, and current Suffolk county Register Patricia Campatelli is suspended at the moment for allegedly punching an employee at the office Christmas party.
It’s scandals like these that fuel critics. The job pays well; over $130,000 a year. And there’s no shortage of analysts who say that directly electing our Registers of Probate is an antiquated and ineffective way of doing business. Both Ianella and McDermott disagree.
"Pardon the expression, but I think people are dead wrong when they say it shouldn’t be an elected position. You know what? This is a job that is the public eyes and ears and the public has to hold the register accountable," Said Ianella.
McDermott added, "What is the alternative? What are you going to have a governor appoint somebody like in the clerk Magistrate or the district court? You’re appointed for life, with very little recourse for ever being removed from the position."
Still, on Tuesday  seven registers, including McDermott, ran unopposed in their primary and will run unopposed in the general election. In fact, only voters in Hampshire, Middlesex, Worcester and Plymouth counties will have a candidate from each party to choose from come November. For the rest of you, it’ll be six more years until you once again have a say in who runs your Probate and family court.

Former Boston city councilor Felix Arroyo earned the democratic nomination for Suffolk County Register of Probation on Tuesday with 53 percent of the vote. Incumbent Patricia Campatelli earned 12 percent of the vote. Arroyo will not face a Republican challenger in the general election. 

In Plymouth County, the only other county with competitive races, Republican Anthony O’Brien Sr. earned his party's nomination by just 404 votes over Andrew Burbine. On the Democrat ticket, Matthew McDonough defeated Mark Linde, earning nearly 70 percent of the vote. McDonough and O'Brien will square off in the general election this November.  

Edgar B. Herwick III can be reached at curiositydesk@wgbh.org