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How to Prep Your Ballot for Cook County Judges

It’s a lot of names in what’s already a busy primary season, but some lifehacks and a Chicago startup make it less painful than it seems.

It’s not as hard as it looks.   Photo: Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune

It’s a busy primary season—highly contested and extremely expensive races on both sides for governor, a significant challenge for longtime incumbent Dan Lipinski by Marie Newman for the House of Representatives, and an eight-way race for the Democrat who will be seeking to replace Lisa Madigan as attorney general.

But as usual, Chicago piles on the ballot. Mine has 12 races for judicial vacancies, with 34 candidates in all. Democracy is great and all, but I’ve written before about how this is not necessarily the best state of affairs, particularly back in 2012 when a Circuit Court judge was charged with misdemeanor battery for pushing a sheriff’s deputy and throwing her keys at another.

She’d also gotten mostly negative reviews from judicial watchdogs—who, while diligent, are not especially hard graders—in the 18 years prior. She’d been retained every time. She was retained again in 2012. (She was finally removed in 2014 after being found unfit.)

In fact, I could only find a handful of judges being recalled from the bench, almost all in one fell swoop: 1990, when voters recalled seven in one election, because some Florida retiree launched an anti-every-incumbent-in-America movement. At least that’s the best theory.

So people just don’t pay much attention to the judicial ballot, and the one time they did it was for the weirdest possible reason. There are better ways of doing this, like the one Rep. Kelly Cassidy proposed in 2013. But until that happens, the onus is on us, the voters.

Fortunately, there are ways to make it a bit easier. There are watchdogs constantly keeping an eye on judges, and the attorneys who want to be judges, even though most people aren’t listening. And one of the best ways to navigate their ratings is from the local startup BallotReady, which I profiled in 2016. They’ve gathered up all the evaluations from local bar groups that they can find, and tallied who’s been highly recommended, who’s been recommended, and who’s not recommended, in one place.

If you want to narrow down the evaluations, Injustice Watch gathered them from the three main bar associations, and did their own surveys and research into their backgrounds for a guide.

Or if aggregation isn’t your thing and you want the narrative details, check out the judicial guides from the Chicago Bar Association, the Chicago Council of Lawyers, and the Illinois State Bar Association.

Or you could vote for the judge with the Irish last name. But fair warning: even that doesn’t seem to matter like the old wife’s tale suggests.

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