What You Need To Know When Voting For Judges

What You Need To Know When Voting For Judges

WBEZ brings you unbiased news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.

It’s a part of the election that some voters might view with the same sense of dread when they’re selected for jury duty: voting for the scores of judges near the end of the ballot. By the time voters get to these judicial races, they might experience “voting fatigue,” said Daniel Kotin, president of the Chicago Bar Association, which produces a handy “Green Guide” on voting for judges.

Kotin joined Morning Shift’s Tony Sarabia to talk about how voters can make informed decisions on who should stay or go from the bench, why we even vote on judges, and the little attention these races receive from the electorate.

Numbers Show Some Contempt Of Court

Almost half of the electorate doesn’t even bother getting to the bottom of the ballot, Kotin said.

“The shame there is that there are probably many judges in the last 20 years who should have been removed from the bench but weren’t,” he said.

For some judges, voters are simply asked “yes” or “no” whether a judge should be retained, and judges need a 60 percent “yes” vote to their jobs. Kotin said almost 20 percent of voters automatically vote “no,” meaning the ceiling for the maximum number of “yes” votes is lowered to 80 percent.


Why Are Judges Elected Anyway?

“It’s what our constitution provides for,” Kotin said. “States either have elected or appointed judiciaries. We in Illinois have gone back and forth on this for many years. I think an elected judiciary is the only way to try to ensure a fair judicial system. When you have an appointed judiciary, it becomes incredibly political.”


Judging the Judges

“It’s our hope that every judge who is either running for election or seeking to be retained on the bench goes through the judicial evaluation process,” Kotin said. “And that process includes the judge filling out the form, a team of investigators doing investigations by interviewing dozens of people who’ve appeared before that judge.

“Then a report is put together from the investigators. After that, the judges are asked to come into a hearing room and they have a hearing in front of a panel of judicial evaluation committee members, and then they determine if a judge is deemed a judge highly qualified or not.”