Are you a registered voter in southwestern Utah and yet don’t recognize names like Troy Little, Jeffrey C. Wilcox or Douglas Whitlock?
Don’t feel too bad. Those are the names of some of the judges set to appear on voters’ ballots in the 2022 election as candidates for judicial retentions, but most judges don’t become household names even in the districts where they preside. State election officials say nearly a quarter of Utah voters don’t even bother filling out the judicial retention section of the ballot.
That could change, at least a little, with the unveiling Thursday of a newly redesigned state website where voters can find out which judges are on their ballots and look at detailed performance records kept by the Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission.
The website, judges.utah.gov, includes lists of judges who are on this year’s ballot, as well as help for visitors to navigate to performance records and other information, said Jennifer Yim, executive director of the JPEC.
“Identifying key information about judges is critical when voting on whether Utah judges should retain their position on the bench,” Yim said.
Utah is one of just a handful of states that still use judicial retention elections, where judges on the ballot do not run against other candidates, but voters are instead asked a simple “yes” or “no” as to whether the judge should serve another term.
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The JPEC was established in 2008 to develop independent evaluations of judges to be used by voters.
Most judges score as “meeting or exceeding” the minimum performance standards set by the commission, although there are occasional exceptions. That can make it difficult for voters to consider voting against a retention, but the revamped website makes it easier to see more specific records and see the results of surveys conducted on each judge.
The site allows visitors to navigate to a consolidated snapshot of all 63 judges up for retention this year, along with individual summaries on each judge and an infographic that makes results easier to visualize.
“We’ve made the site more user friendly overall, with clearer links and view buttons so voters know they can access full reports on judges,” Yim said.
The JPEC creates its performance reports based courtroom observations, court-user interviews and surveys conducted with people who attend court, attorneys and others.
“These evaluations provide in-depth details on judges, something voters tell us is valuable before they cast their ballot,” Yim said.
The site also allows comments from the public on any judge from anywhere in the state. Comments can be left anonymously.
Utah’s three branches of government appoint JPEC’s 13 commissioners to staggered terms.
David DeMille writes about southwestern Utah for The Spectrum & Daily News, a USA TODAY Network newsroom based in St. George. Follow him at @SpectrumDeMille or contact him at email@example.com. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today.