Arizona group assists voters with information on judicial candidates

Oct 30, 2020, 4:35 AM | Updated: 9:53 am
(AP Photo)...
(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

PHOENIX — While political ads only address the top races, voters might be overwhelmed by the number of judges up for election on their ballots.

In Maricopa County, there are more than 50 judges on the ballot alone, which can be time consuming to fill in.

“It results in a lot of people just not filling out their ballot fully or, you know, not flipping it over to get to the other 40,000 judges on the back,” Erin Guiney told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

Guiney is a 22-year-old voter who has helped many of her friends, often first-time voters, fill out their ballots this year.

“You spend hours trying to research people that basically have no information online, and once you do find it, the information might not be clear,” Guiney said.

Guiney isn’t alone in her frustrations.

“We’re expected to vote every two years to retain this array of judges and yet there did not seem to be very much information available,” Cathy Sigmon said.

Sigmon has been an active voter in Arizona for years and saw the need for more and better access to information about Arizona judges.

“So I’m retired, it’s something I do have time for so I’m more than happy to do that research for them” she said.

Thus, in 2017, Sigmon founded Gavel Watch.

Gavel Watch is a sharable Google document that compiles rankings and information about judges on the ballot in Maricopa, Pima, Pinal and Coconino.

The document shows the court, judge, who appointed them and when, their current assignments, when they were last retained, their Judicial Performance Reports, a voting recommendation and an explanation of why. Plus, you can find an explanation of the research and methodology right on the document.

The Judicial Performance Report is the official review of judges from attorney’s jurors and legal witnesses that have worked with them. Judges are ranked and asked to be scored on things like communication, temperament and integrity.

However, these are not always filled out extensively and it’s not the only thing that some may want to consider when voting to retain a judge or not. Sigmon also looked into notable cases and the social media presence of judges.

“The information that I compiled, frankly it took me and one other researcher months to put it together,” she said. “It’s all available, it is publicly available information, but it is exhausting, frankly, to look for it. It was a huge amount of research.”

Sigmon adds that while anyone is welcome to disagree with the recommendations, she felt it was important to explain her rationale.

“I’m not trying to give either a liberal or conservative recommendation, just being liberal or conservative was not enough, what I was specifically looking for were judges I felt were bringing a bias into their decisions.”

Both Guiney and Sigmon stressed the importance of having access to nonpartisan information about judges and lesser known races and initiatives on each ballot.

“It is, I would say more important to be voting for these lower-profile races because they have a lot more to do with what kinds of things we in Arizona are going to be dealing with,” Guiney said.

Sigmon echoed that as the key to getting out of a partisan mindset in politics.

“The more we talk about what values we want to have, as part of our state and our daily lives, those are the things that people can relate to each other on that don’t send them into their partisan corners.

Now, the Gavel Watch Google Doc is being shared between friends and across the internet. Guiney said she got the document from her mom before tweeting it out to hundreds of followers and getting retweeted more than 1,800 times, which is what makes it all worth it for Sigmon.

“I think a lot of people have found it through organic, social media reach so that makes me so grateful and so thankful that all this work is very much appreciated. I have gotten a lot of appreciation and it all means a great deal to me.”

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Arizona group assists voters with information on judicial candidates