Poll: Before heading into the booth, voters research President and Mayor, but not Ward Committeeman

November 5, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, WBEZ polled its audience to figure out whether they're blindly heading into the voting booth without a care in the world, or whether they actually pay attention to who is running for particular offices in federal, state and local elections. Below are the results of this self-reported data from over 1,000 WBEZ readers (many of whom are also members).

Unsurprisingly, President and Vice President come out on top as an office that respondants felt the most informed about. But the numbers dropped sharply for positions like Metropolitan Reclamation Board Commissioner (on Tuesday's ballot in Cook County) and Ward Committeeman. You can click on the columns above to see exactly what percent of people out of the 1,345 voters say they research specific offices.

In my last post, I remarked that many people don't do much research for less-well known offices, like judges. This might be anecdotal, but if this year is any indication, that may be changing: Dan Sinker created mobilejudges.com, which voters can use when they're in the voting booth, on their smart phones. There have also been a number of other pieces published by varying media outlets to inform voters before it's too late, like this piece from Craig Newman at the Sun-Times, or the flyer I got in the mail urging me to retain certain judges, seen below.

Despite growing amounts of information, it's hard to tell if this will make much of a difference: On Monday's Morning Shift, WBEZ listeners learned that the last time a judge was not retained in Cook County was in 1990; in fact, "Virtually all judges are retained with every election," said Malcolm Rich of the Chicago Council of Lawyers and Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice.

What are the top reasons judges aren't retained? They're late to the bench, rude, unaccomodating, and "some of the judges simply don't have knowledge of the law," Rich said.

It's also difficult to tell how much stock we should put into looking at these rankings. Just seeing a YES/NO ranking according to the Judicial Performance Commission of Cook County fails to indicate to us exactly why, according to a bunch of anonymous attorneys, these judges should not get a chance to judge another day. To get a better picture, you can read full written evaluations of each judge according to the Chicago Council of Lawyers Evaluation Report. As Rich explains, many judges are not suggested for retention because they're criticized for being "inflexible", "hostile" or "imperious."

So once we get people researching, what's the next step? Looking closer at these judicial evalutions, deciding if we can trust them, and figuring out what we can do to make the process even better.

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