The initial round of candidate filings for 2014 Illinois judicial elections demonstrate that a small minority of Illinois voters will choose the next round of state court judges.
Filing finished up Monday for the 54 open seats and November voters will only get choices in eight of the contests. That fact stands because of the partisan nature of Illinois’ judicial elections that drives the choices to just one side of the partisan primaries.
And, even then many of the races are dominated by the influence of the Cook County Democratic Party, leaving voters with little influence on the third branch of Illinois government.
Case in point for 2014: Based on 2010 turnout estimates, only 17 percent of Illinois general election voters will get a chance to choose between two candidates in an open race for judge in November 2014. There will be no choice on the judicial ballot for five of every six general election voters in Illinois.
The “lucky” voters will exist only in Macon, Madison, Putnam, Rock Island, St. Clair and Vermilion counties, as well as limited subcircuit areas in Will (2 of 5 subcircuits) and Cook (3 of 12 subcircuits) counties.
Even worse, more judicial candidates (11) won their races automatically by being unopposed after the December 2 filing deadline, than will win a contested race in the general election next November.
The rest of the candidates will compete in contested partisan elections, where the voter pool is limited and the turnout is dismal.
In 13 countywide judgeships in Cook County, not a single Republican filed for candidacy.
In downstate counties that lean Republican, not a single Democrat filed for seats up in Wayne, Douglas, Menard, Stark and DuPage counties. In 30 of 54 possible seats, primary voters from only one party will pick the next lawyer to put on the judicial robes.
And, as if to add insult to injury, seven more judges missed the retirement deadline to place their seats on the list to file in the “regular” filing period that ended on Monday.
Five of those seven seats weren’t listed by the State Board of Elections as vacancies until staff from the ICJL called the Board of Elections Tuesday afternoon and asked for an updated list.
Potential candidates in those five seats have only 13 days from today to collect petition signatures to file on the first day of the “special” filing period and only twenty days before the opportunity to file is completely over.
Their lack of planning and untimely decision-making now gives potentially-interested lawyers only three weeks to react.
This is simply unacceptable.
The 2014 judicial election cycle perfectly demonstrates why reforms to the way Illinoisans elect their judges are greatly needed, and the Illinois Civil Justice League has strong ideas for reform that will present voters with greater choices and bring greater attention to better qualified candidates.
Allen Adomite is Vice President of the Illinois Civil Justice League