Credit: Thinkstock
Do you feel lost and uninformed when voting for judges? You're not alone.
Do you feel lost and uninformed when voting for judges? You’re not alone.Credit: Thinkstock

Next Tuesday, thousands of conscientious Cook County Democrats will head to the polls, well informed and ready to vote for nominees for president, senate, and state’s attorney. And then they’ll get to the judges at the bottom of the ballot.

Here, voters are likely to feel less prepared. They’ll be confronted with elections for two appellate court and 11 circuit court seats, and perhaps a subcircuit seat or two as well, depending on where the voter lives. How does a citizen make a conscientious choice in these races? 

The county’s Republican voters are largely spared this anxiety. Because the county votes overwhelmingly Democratic, no one’s foolish enough to run in the GOP primary for any of the countywide judicial seats. The choice on the Republican ballot in each of these races this year, as usual, is “No Candidate.”

Some Democratic voters simply skip the judicial races. In the 2012 Democratic primary, at the top of the ballot, Barack Obama got 402,000 votes in Cook County. In the countywide circuit court elections at the bottom of the ballot, the vote ranged from 302,000 to 350,000.

At least Democratic voters this election don’t have to worry much about the two appellate seats, or about three of the countywide circuit court seats, because only a single candidate is running for them.

To vote thoughtfully in the contested judicial races, a cheat sheet is almost essential. Fortunately, good ones are available.

The best in my opinion is done by the Chicago Council of Lawyers, a bar group that’s been evaluating judges for decades. You can find a link to the CCL’s recommendations here, and here’s the group’s sample ballot, which you can print and bring it with you to the poll. 

The CCL evaluations have sometimes offended sitting judges, whom the CCL also evaluates for retention. (There will be a judicial retention election here in November.) In 1984, when the CCL found criminal court judge Thomas Maloney unqualified for retention, he called the council’s members a bunch of “barely competent and incompetent misfits and malcontents.” Maloney was retained by voters, but went to prison in 1994 for fixing murder cases. 

One of this year’s circuit court candidates happens to be named Thomas Maloney Cushing. He’s no relation to the Judge Maloney who went to prison, he stressed when I called to ask. Cushing, in fact, has the CCL’s top rating—”Well Qualified”. He ran unsuccessfully for judge two years ago as “Thomas M. Cushing”. “Some say a longer name catches people’s eyes,” he told me; and so he decided to use his middle name on the ballot this time.

You can also check out the judicial recommendations of the 11 bar groups who are members of the Alliance of Bar Associations here.

But do bring a cheat sheet. It’s better than just voting for a pretty name.