Ballot order for judicial retention candidates is essentially nonsensical to the voter. They’re not alphabetical. The ballot order of retention candidates is not based on filing date, either. They are in an order set by statute, 10 ILCS 5/16-6.1
The judicial retention candidates are identified on the ballot by court (Supreme Court, Appellate Court or Circuit Court) and ordered according to length of time in the position for which they are seeking retention. Judges with equal seniority are listed alphabetically.
We believe this method of ordering the retention candidates on the ballot is inappropriate. It is unnecessarily difficult for voters to process a list of 60 or more candidates in a seemingly random order, even with the aid of voters’ guides in ballot order. Presented in order of seniority without information about the ordering of the names, the order of the ballot is meaningless and confusing.
Furthermore, if the judges are listed in order of seniority to convey a sense of quality or add weight to a candidate through ballot position, it is misleading and biased. As years of research has shown, ballot order and ballot design strongly influence election results and candidates listed first and last tend to receive more votes than those in the middle. Effects are particularly notable in nonpartisan races and for lower-profile offices and in influencing shares of votes cast.
Changing the statute in order to list judicial retention candidates in alphabetical order on the ballot, regardless of seniority, would allow voters to more readily process the information presented on the ballot, more easily recall recommendations, and ease the voting process.
The judicial retention process in Illinois is facing increased scrutiny from legislators, the media, and citizen groups. Some improvements to the process are complex and will require time to implement well. Revising the ballot, however, is simple, intuitive and offers voters simple tools for understanding the ballot.