Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Analyzing the results of the 2014 judicial primary

What if they gave a primary and nobody voted?

The March 18 Democratic Primary wasn't quite that bad -- but the turnout was abysmally low. Cynthia Dizikes reported in the March 20 editions of the Chicago Tribune,
The turnout was well below the last lowest turnout in modern Chicago history, which occurred during the 2012 primary when roughly 24 percent of registered voters ended up participating. * * *

In Cook County outside Chicago, about 230,000 people -- or roughly 16 percent of registered voters -- made it to the ballot box Tuesday. New Trier Township had the highest showing with about 23 percent turnout, while Hanover Township posted the lowest with about 11 percent.

The last lowest turnout for a nonpresidential primary election was in 1998, when a little less than 24 percent of registered voters weighed in on the races. Two years later, when there was a presidential race to be decided, only 23 percent of voters showed up, the lowest presidential primary turnout in Cook in the past 24 years.
And, not only was the turnout low overall, the bitter Republican gubernatorial primary sucked what little life there was out of the Democratic primary where the only real contested races were for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and for the judiciary (no, I'm not counting Quinn v. Hardiman or Tom Dart v. three challengers -- the outcomes there were never in doubt). There is anecdotal evidence for the proposition that several Democratic ward and township organizations encouraged reliable persons to cross over to the Republican primary and vote against Bruce Rauner. Cook County Clerk David Orr's office has data which, at least for the suburbs, supports those anecdotes: "Republican ballots were cast by 55 percent of voters in suburban Cook County. In the last Gubernatorial Primary (2010) Republican ballots accounted for 35 percent of all ballots cast." Conversely, "Democratic ballots were cast by 44.5 percent of suburban Cook County voters. This is down from 65 percent in the 2010 primary."

Now the conventional wisdom is that a low-turnout race favors an established political organization.

But the Cook County Democratic Party carried five of six contested countywide Circuit Court races, and one of the two contested races for the Appellate Court. Now, don't get me wrong: Six out of eight is not a bad percentage in any league. But if low turnout is supposed to favor the established political organization, one might have thought that this slate should have had the best possible chance for unanimous success. It's possible that unions and local organizations 'peeling off' some of their voters to try and derail Rauner may have have hurt the chances of the Party's slated candidate for the Gordon vacancy on the Appellate Court, Judge Freddrenna M. Lyle. That race wound up fairly close.

But in the race for the countywide Arnold vacancy, the Party's slated candidate lost to Bridget Anne Mitchell by 63,518 votes, 63.7% to 36.3%, a margin that was pretty consistent in city and suburbs both. There were some local variations, certainly: Mitchell got over 80% of the vote in her home ward, the 19th. But it wasn't a situation where the Party 'dumped' their candidate -- or where a lot of committeemen dumped their nominal candidate -- but, even so, the Party carried only one Chicago ward for their candidate in this race (Michael Madigan's 13th Ward -- and only by a margin of 51-49 there).

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that -- at least in this election -- the greatest service provided by the Cook County Democratic Party for its slate was, in several cases, clearing the field -- driving out a number of candidates before the election, allowing five countywide Circuit Court candidates and one Appellate Court candidate to run unopposed.

Not far enough out on the limb for you?

Well, here's another modest proposal: This may have been an election in which the majority of judicial voters (the tiny group that they may have been) were making informed choices.

I can offer only the following fact in evidence: While many well qualified judicial candidates did not win their races, no candidate deemed unqualified or not recommended by all, or even the majority, of the evaluating bar associations won any judicial race, countywide or subcircuit. Now, you may counter that, in many races, there were only well qualified candidates on the ballot. And you may say that the highest rated candidates (at least in the collective estimation of the bar associations) did not always win their races. I can't argue that. And, if you want to argue that voters favored female candidates over males in judicial races, I can't argue that either. (The Party's slate may be said to have benefited from the fact that four of its six candidates in countywide Circuit Court races were female. The slated male candidate who won his race, William B. Raines, had three female opponents.)

Nevertheless, I'm still going to suggest that this may have been an election in which informed voters made an impact.

There is one other lesson I think we can draw from this primary just past and that concerns the need for more lawyers to step up and serve on bar association judicial evaluation committees. But this is an issue I want to devote an entire post to, and I intend to do so soon.

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