Here are five voter guides you can use to help you fill out your ballot.
Voters in Arizona’s four largest counties have the right to decide whether to retain Superior Court judges, but how can they know whether a judge is fit to remain on the bench?
In Maricopa, Coconino, Pima, and Pinal counties, which each have populations of more than 250,000 people, judges are chosen for the bench through merit selection rather than direct election, as they are in Arizona’s 11 smaller counties. After being appointed, judges must go through periodical retention elections to continue serving. Supreme Court justices and appellate court judges also are subject to retention elections statewide.
In Maricopa County, there are 40 Superior Court judges, 11 Court of Appeals judges, and three Supreme Court justices on the Nov. 3 ballot.
“I was a little overwhelmed by all of the judges there were on the ballot,” said Sunny Sabin, 21, of Phoenix, who was voting for the first time. “I don’t know if I would have researched every judge.”
Dozens on the Ballot
That reaction is widespread. A common issue that people have with voting on judicial candidates is the sheer number of them, said Aaron Nash, communications director for the Arizona Supreme Court and Administrative Office of the Courts.
“In Maricopa County, seeing 40 names on the ballot can be overwhelming and they just skip it,” Nash said in an email interview. “If they haven’t been to court or followed court cases, they don’t want to cast an uninformed vote or guess.”
Most people don’t vote on the judges, Nash said, and “there is some anecdotal evidence that the vote on judges generally falls around a 70/30 split on yes v. no.”
The Judicial Performance Review, an online report that rates the judges on competence and integrity, is a solution for those who say it is too time-consuming and impractical for individual voters to conduct their own research on judges.
People who have direct experiences with judges – attorneys, court staff, jurors, witnesses – complete surveys rating judges on such things as their legal ability, courtroom management, professionalism and fairness.
The Commission on Judicial Performance Review aggregates the questionnaire data and decides whether each judge meets judicial performance standards.
Most judges get unanimous approval from the 33-member commission. This year, three out of the 40 judges in Maricopa County Superior Court – Suzanne Cohen, Adam Driggs and Jo Lynn Gentry – did not. Gentry received the lowest number of approval votes, with six commissioners voting that she did not meet judicial performance standards.
How Retaining Judges Works
Susan Edwards of Phoenix, a former member of the judicial performance commission, said voters often wonder how so many judges can be retained every election.
What voters don’t realize is that the judges have to go through a rigorous process to be selected for the bench in the first place, she said, and sometimes a judge with bad reviews will take the easy way out and not face voters.
“What will happen sometimes is a judge gets a really bad review on questionnaires and they end up choosing to resign rather than to run for retention,” Edwards said.
The judicial performance review system is beneficial because it aids voters in their decisions while also suggesting where each judge can improve, she said.
The process suffers, Edwards said, when voters don’t understand how it works.
Eli Bliman, 23, of Phoenix, said he had never heard about the Judicial Performance Review before, and he struggled with voting on judges.
“I think (the performance review) having more promotion might remind people that they were even voting on judges because that was something that I’d forgotten about in the heat of all the propositions and other elected races that get a lot more coverage,” Bliman said.
One way voters can get help filling out other portions of their ballot is by using recommendations from local organizations. Groups like Living United for Change in Arizona and Black Phoenix Votes release voter guides to help supporters vote for candidates that align with their mission.
LUCHA—Living United for Change in Arizona
Candidates endorsed by LUCHA are put through a rigourous vetting process, where members of the organization rank the candidates by their ability to uphold LUCHA’s four pillars: Economic justice, Fighting white supremacy, mass liberation, and upholding democracy.
Black Phoenix Votes
Black Phoenix Votes aims to, “[flex] Black political power in elections” and use the momentum built from elections to organize supporters to make longterm change in order to bring about “better schools, quality affordable healthcare, defunding cops, and investing in our neighborhoods.”
Want to know how local candidates are supporting Trump’s agenda? AZ PODER’s voter guide is made up of “local Trumps” that the organization recommends voting against. They also provide a list of “on the fence” candidates, who AZ PODER defines as: “Candidates who are on the fence on police violence aren’t here for the people. They’re out here for their political careers, and they consequently carry out Trump’s pro-police agenda trying to play both sides.”
Mi AZ researched candidates throughout Arizona, and released their recommendations based on candidates who include the following in their platform:
- Address the COVID-19 crisis with care and compassion
- Make healthcare more affordable and protect people with pre-existing conditions
- Fight for good jobs in our communities
- Invest in public education
- Defend immigrant families
- Protect clean air and water
Save Our Schools
Another portion of the ballot voters may have trouble filling out is the school board positions. Save Our Schools issued endorsements earlier this month for school board candidates that promise to:
- publicly acknowledge their role as an advocate for public education beyond school board meetings to parents, community leaders and state policymakers
- publicly advocate for a permanent, dedicated funding stream for public education made up of new dollars from the General Fund
- publicly resolve or affirm any public resolution, if it becomes available to school boards, opposing any expansion of ESA private school vouchers
- publicly oppose the diversion of any portion of their district’s funding to privatization schemes, including (but not limited to) charter co-location or microschool vouchers
- support the reopening of schools (save for a highly selective group of students with verified special needs) only when Arizona meets specific scientific benchmarks for COVID-19, such as those published by the World Health Organization
Continue Reading: The Copper Courier’s Guide to Voting in Arizona in 2020