Monday, November 3, 2008

Attention voters

It's a ritual nearly as old as democracy itself. Voters walk into the voting booth so focused on the top of the ticket that they either don't bother to vote in state and local races or cast an uninformed vote based on the thinnest available evidence.

Why else would a handful of obscure candidates in every Chicago election legally anoint themselves with middle names like O'Leary, Flanagan and Fitzpatrick? They're counting on our ignorance and apathy.

Likewise with the safe-sounding Fairchilds and Harts of the world, who hope we'll find out they're deranged LaRouche acolytes only after they defeat the "weird-sounding" Olyskiewiczes and Husseins (their Yale law degrees, successful legal careers and moderate views notwithstanding).

But as Tip O'Neill said, all politics is local. In fact, you could make a pretty good case that the more local the election, the more direct its effect upon you. An alderman or condo board president affects the quality of your life in ways much more tangible than a statewide or national officeholder can. Under any other administration I'd compare their impact to that of the president, but doing so this year would distract from and weaken my argument.

Take the retention races for Cook County Circuit Court and Illinois Appellate Court judges (or insert here whichever county and state you live in). Most of us rarely appear in court, and whether we do or not, have little means of evaluating the performance of the judges on the slate. So we either don't vote or, worse, vote out of thin air, possibly doing more damage than those who don't vote. It's the rare voter who makes informed decisions about a bunch of judges she'll never meet.

This year, let's make that rare voter you and me. Happily, various local bar associations have done the homework for us, their volunteers spending long hours to determine which judges are, by wide consensus, qualified or unqualified. All you and I have to do is bring their findings with us into the voting booth and thereby cast meaningful votes.

Here, for example, is an email the Chicago Bar Association recently sent me:

The Association's Judicial Evaluation Committee has completed its evaluations for the November 4, 2008, General Election.

Of the 70 sitting judges running for retention in November, the JEC found two Illinois Appellate Court justices "Qualified" and 64 Circuit Court judges "Qualified" for retention. Four Circuit Court judges were given ratings of "Not Recommended" for retention. We urge you to vote NO for the retention judges found "Not Recommended."

Of the 34 candidates seeking election for Circuit Court positions, 31 were evaluated by the JEC. The Committee found four of those candidates "Highly Qualified," 25 "Qualified," and two "Not recommended.” Three candidates declined to participate in the evaluation process and pursuant to the JEC's Governing Resolution were automatically found "Not Recommended."

Our complete findings are available on the CBA's website and may be conveniently downloaded.

Please feel free to take this information with you on November 4, 2008 and remember to vote the Judicial Ballot. We urge you to vote for candidates found Qualified or Highly Qualified.

The CBA also thanks the many JEC committee members who volunteered so much of their time in order to complete the evaluation process.

There are many other fine bar associations whose electoral opinions you can also consult, and compare and contrast if you wish. I'm passing along the CBA's opinions not as the last word on the subject but as the first, a reminder that there are informed opinions out there available to anyone willing to take a moment to seek them out.

See you at the polls.

Incidentally, if you still haven't decided whom to support in the presidential election, I'm not even going to try to sway your vote, but congratulations on figuring out how to use a computer.

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