Did you vote in the judicial retention election last year?
Chances are that you did not. There were 59 judges on the retention ballot and their names were listed in a seemingly random order—not alphabetical, not grouped by court division, just 59 names and the questioned “should this judge be retained in office?”
Four judges—Cynthia Brim, Gloria Chevere, Christopher Donnelly, and Pamela Hill-Veal—were considered Not Qualified for Retention by more than half of the members of the Alliance of Bar Associations or the Chicago Bar Association or both. The Judicial Performance Commission of Cook County recommended performance improvement plans for all four judges as well. The Chicago Tribune urged a NO Vote for Judges Brim, Chevere, and Hill-Veal.
An analysis of the 2012 judicial election vote shows that our retention election system is not providing adequate citizen oversight to the judiciary. Substantially less than half of the voters who voted in the general election bothered to vote for or against any of these four judges.
Judge Brim was found “not qualified” by 9 of 10 Alliance Bar Associations and “not recommended” by the Chicago Bar Association. Gloria Chevere was found “not qualified” by 9 of 10 Alliance Bar Associations and “not recommended” by the Chicago Bar Association. Christopher Donnelly was found “not qualified” by 6 of 10 Alliance Bar Associations and “recommended” by the Chicago Bar Association. Pamela Hill-Veal was found “not qualified” by all 10 of the Alliance Bar Associations and “not recommended” by the Chicago Bar Association.
Nonetheless, all of these judges were retained. What is surprising, however, is that each judge retained his or her seat with fewer than 45% of ballots cast that included a vote on their retention. Such a low display of voter confidence, coupled with a near-unanimous disapproval of evaluating organizations, should not result in the retention of an unqualified judge.
A judge need only 60% yes votes of all votes cast on their line on the ballot to retain her seat. However, there is no minimum number of ballots which must be cast for a retention vote to be valid. 1,969,095 total ballots were cast in Cook County in the November 6 election: 967,402 total ballots in the City of Chicago and 1,001,693 total ballots in suburban Cook County. However, a majority of these ballots did not include a vote on the judicial retention candidates. Even though each judge got more than 60% yes vote required to retain his or her seat, none did so with a yes vote on more than 45% of all ballots cast.
Only 1,273,863 of the 1,969,095 ballots cast in both the city and suburban Cook County included a vote for or against Judge Brim—that’s only 65% of total ballots cast in the election. Judge Brim received only 786,244 “Yes” votes out of a total 1,969,095 ballots cast in the election —a mere 40% of total ballots cast in the election. Judge Chevere also managed to garner a “Yes” vote on only 40% of all ballots cast in the election. Judge Donnelly eked out a “Yes” vote on 43%, while Judge Hill-Veal managed to get a “Yes” vote on only 39.93% of all ballots cast in the election.
Our judicial retention elections do not engage voters and a successful retention election does not include the votes of most people who go to the polls. It’s time for something to change.
–Elizabeth Monkus, Staff Attorney & Director of the Center for Judicial Performance and Integrity.