Friday, October 19, 2012

How do I decide how to vote?

Despite the fact that this post is about voting, I swear it isn't actually going to be about politics. It really is procedural. Because voting is really HARD. And I don't mean the actual act of voting (especially because Colorado allows mail-in voting). I mean deciding what and who to vote for.

Some of the decisions are really obvious. President, for example. My vote there is quite decided (and has been for awhile). Representative too (I adore Diana DeGette). Colorado doesn't have a Senate race this year, but in years past I've been quite informed about those elections as well, and certain about my preferred candidate.

It's the smaller races that make it so difficult. The local elections, and the amendments. And specifically, the judges. There are SO MANY judges. And they aren't competing against each other! The question on the ballot is just whether they should be retained. A separate question for each judge, approximately 17 million questions in total. (OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a little. But it's a lot!)

The amendments are the most difficult. The city of Denver does this awesome thing (do other cities do this too? I don't recall receiving anything like this when I was registered to vote in DC or in North Carolina) where they send out a booklet summarizing all the local ballot initiatives, what they're proposing, and the comments for and against them. Sometimes I can read the comments and tell where I fall on an issue (for example, there's a question about campaign finance reform on this year's ballot and phew, I could tell where I fall between arguments about corporate influence and arguments about money being the equivalent of free speech). But some of them are much harder to parse, because I don't know the context. And, the Denver booklet only addresses the pros and cons of local ballot initiatives, not statewide, so I'm on my own for the state amendments anyway.

And sometimes it's a question of more than just whether I generally agree with an issue: it's about the details of the proposal. For example, there's a ballot measure about legalizing marijuana this year. Generally speaking, I think it's silly for marijuana to be illegal, and I think the state could really do with the tax revenue. But do I understand the issue deeply enough to be able to read the amendment and figure out if I think the proposed approach is the right way to deal with this issue? No. The Denver Post helps by publishing editorials on most of the topics, but I don't fully trust the Denver Post, since I don't often agree with its political endorsements, particularly at the local level (I'm still really annoyed over their endorsements in last year's school board race). And I have yet to find a comprehensive local organization with which I share most or all of my political stances. So I end up having to cobble together a ton of research from a million different sources and often STILL don't really know how I feel about an issue.

It just seems crazy, you know? I am an educated, politically engaged voter, with clear stances on most issues and the desire and ability to do a lot of research. I think I am a pretty good example of an informed voter. And yet, the more I inform myself, the less informed I feel. And given that a lot of voters are not known for being super informed, I wonder how everyone else is making their decisions. Do they all know something I don't? Am I not tapped in enough to the political process? Why does it take me hours and hours of agonizing research and analysis to even start to come to a decision about over half the questions on my ballot? And, given the huge effort required for me to cast an informed vote, how helpful are these votes to begin with? What does the outcome mean? Do we really think every voter spent the time required to really understand the issues and stances and proposals on the ballot and cast an informed vote based on that understanding? Or are most people's votes based on bias and incomplete information? I mean, I'm doing tons of research and I still feel like my ballot is a hodge-podge of partisan half-understandings.

And the judges! Can someone please explain to me what I'm supposed to do about the judges? The thing that drives me the craziest is that they're basically impossible to research, because there is very little information available about them. So what is supposed to happen? Am I supposed to quickly Google their names to ensure there isn't some sort of major scandal or concern making the news about them, and assuming not, vote to retain them? Am I supposed to dig up information on all of them, and if so, where and how? Am I supposed to just assume that they're all fine and vote to retain them because I don't want to put someone out of a job? If this is what people mean when they talk about how important it is that judges are elected, I'm not impressed. I don't see how the vote to retain these judges could possibly be meaningful in any way. But maybe I'm totally misunderstanding how it's supposed to work.

But one way or another, it's going to take me from now until Election Day to figure out how I'm going to vote.


  1. Oh, man, I am SO WITH you on this. (The judges! We get a blue book that describes the outcome of a poll of all the lawyers that work with the judges, which helps, but still - there are so many! And after my last stint of jury duty, I realized that the only way I'd know for sure about the judges is if I went and observed each judge in action - which: HA. I'll remember that project next time I'm unemployed.)

    Mike just leaves most of the ballot blank. I tend to vote randomly once I've gone through the issues/ candidates on which I have passionate views. Well, not randomly, exactly, but not based on research or deliberation, either.

    What's the solution? I don't even know. I have a feeling the best solution would be community wide: if there were so many public forums/ discussions on TV and radio and other news sources that even the average disinterested person couldn't escape it - that might make a difference. But bringing about such coverage would be a gargantuan labor of love for someone much more organized and passionate than me.

  2. wow, i can't ever remember voting for judges - i wonder how that's handled in VA? because i'm fairly certain it's not grouped in with any of the major election cycles! that sounds... kind of pointless. if you have no context on who to vote for, how is your (ie anyone's) vote effective??

  3. The Chicago Bar Association actually puts together a really nice review of judges ... and offers write-ups of their endorsements. I wonder if there's a bar association in Denver or the state that does the same thing for you.

    Also, I am generally VERY liberal when it comes to my social views. However, a friend of mine (who lives in Denver) is married to a doctor who has devoted his career to keeping marijuana use illegal. He sites all kinds of medical studies and issues with it. Since we don't have that kind of vote in Illinois, I haven't looked into it too deeply. But, I probably would do more research if it ever does come up here. You can read more about him here:

  4. For the judges you can go here:

  5. To build on what Nilsa said, for any other readers in Chicago, aggregates the reviews and results of several different Bar Associations - safe to say that if ALL the bar associations recommend that a particular judge not be retained, that judge is pretty bad, and I feel confident voting against them.


  6. On Colorado judges: The blue book you got by mail will have recommendations on whether a judge should be retained. Most of the time, they recommend retention. They reach those recommendations by surveying lawyers, litigants, and jurors who've dealt with that judge (details here: ).

    I'd be wary of just googling a judge and looking for scandals. A judge can easily be embroiled in a media scandal even when he or she properly applies the law to the case at hand. It's the law itself, or the case, that often causes the scandal, not the judge's ruling per se.

    My background: I'm a CO attorney and I've worked for a Denver judge. I always vote for retention when that's recommended. If it's not recommended, then I do a little research to find out why. Usually it's because attorneys and litigants have felt they were treated poorly by the judge, even if they agreed with the rulings.

    Hope this helps!

  7. For some reason voting was really clear cut for me. Well, I know the reason--most of my choices were between a dem or a tea partier. That made it easier, I suppose, but I'd be thrilled with having to make choices between solid candidates.

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