Citizens vote on Election Day at Fire Station #71 in Alhambra, Los Angeles County, on November 6, 2012 in California, as Americans flock to the polls nationwide to decide between President Barack Obama, his Rebuplican challenger Mitt Romney, and a wide range of other issues. Alhambra is one of 6 cities in California's 49th Assembly District, the state's first legislative district where Asian-Americans make up the majority of the population. AFP PHOTO / Frederic J. BROWNFREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Updated: December 12, 2012 6:33AM
Vote “No.” That’s the simple solution when confronted by a list of judicial candidates you know nothing about.
It’s the only way to reform a system that corrupts the voting process.
For years, against my better judgment, I followed the recommendations of the bar associations on retaining Cook County judges.
It never felt right. So this year I voted “No” over and over again.
Would any well-informed voter rely solely on the recommendations of politicians when it came to electing a president, congressmen or state legislator? Sure, it’s a helpful bit of knowledge to see a testimonial from an elected leader you know and respect.
Even a political party endorsement can give you some insight. If the Democrats tell you to vote for people and you’re a Republican, chances are good the philosophies of those candidates are not similar to your own.
I really don’t know anything about the members of the Chicago Bar Association, other than the fact they are all attorneys.
Is it really a good thing that they find a judge “highly recommended?”
Would you vote for any other public official — an alderman or U.S. senator — based solely on the recommendations of bar associations?
Voters can get an enormous amount of information about most candidates by reading newspaper stories, calling up their Web pages, attending town-hall meetings or simply asking their neighbors.
You might place a priority on issues such as abortion, gun control, taxation, health care and gay marriage, just to name a few.
Judges aren’t supposed to take positions on controversial issues that might come before their court. And even if they have a personal bias, I would hope they could set that aside when hearing a case.
Voters simply don’t have enough information to judge the quality of a circuit court judge.
Even judges found “not qualified” by bar associations are repeatedly returned to office. In the average judicial retention race, only 65 percent of voters even cast a ballot.
Nearly 60 judges were on the retention ballot in Cook County this year, and many voters chose not to vote because they realized they didn’t know enough to make a decision about retention.
Editorial writers, newspaper columnists, even Cook County Clerk David Orr, the chief election official in the suburbs, have repeatedly called for reform.
Nothing changes. That’s because the political bosses like the current system. Their people, even the incompetent judges, are automatically turned to the bench.
There’s just one way to change things that I can see. Vote “no” for every judge on the retention ballot from now on.
I realize that will provoke some howls of protest that good judges might not be retained. But it’s the only way concerned citizens have to protest the corruption of the election process.
There are good options to the retention system. The simplest suggestion is limiting the number of judges on the retention ballot to only those found “not qualified” by more than one bar association.
That would still give judges the option of running for retention, but now there would only be five or six on the ballot instead of 60. More voters could actually focus on those judges and the criticisms of their conduct on the bench.
But forget about finding the best solution to the problem, for now. Focus on the situation that exists.
You are asked to return people on the bench knowing nothing about them.
But you have an option in each instance.
You can vote “No.”
That’s what people who take their voting rights seriously should do.
It took me less than 60 seconds this past election. It felt good.