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The Nevada Independent

Our judicial races project

Jon Ralston
Jon Ralston
Ralston Reports
Photo of gavel on scale of justice

Every cycle, it happens:

Too many voters cast ballots for judicial candidates without knowing much about them beyond name recognition or what they see in fluffy TV spots/mailers. Thousands actually skip those contests when they get to them in the voting booth, leaving the races blank.

This is bad for the judiciary and bad for democracy. I’ll save the debate for another day about whether judges should run for office, but we have to deal in the universe as it exists.

We want to help. So The Indy is embarking on the most ambitious project to evaluate judges and candidates ever attempted in Nevada. Our goal is simple: Give voters as much useful information about those running for very important seats in our state as we can. We want a more informed electorate in all areas, but especially in one where so little useful information has been available.

Let me take you through what we plan to do:

I am thrilled that we are partnering with the Boyd School of Law for this endeavor. Dean Daniel Hamilton embraced this from the moment we approached him. Law students are going to help us do the research necessary to make this work. We are honored to have Boyd as a partner.

We are assembling two groups for the purposes of assessment, with some overlap. The first is a cross-section of lawyers from various practice areas — public defenders, criminal lawyers, public interest attorneys — to help us prepare questions to ask candidates. The second is a panel that will help us evaluate all of the information we assemble to put it in perspective. That group will be diverse in all ways possible. All of their names will be public.

Later this week, we will be sending questionnaires to the candidates in contested primary races. We hope they will take them as seriously as they take the offices they are seeking. The questionnaires are not short — we will publish them soon so our readers can see what is in them — and ask for information on a candidate’s background, experience, campaign donors and misconduct (if any).

After we receive the answers, we will vet them with the help of our law students. Then we will have our panel examine what we have found. They will surely see things we, as laymen, do not.

We will not assign ratings or scores to either incumbents or challengers. Our only mission here is to inform voters of factual and contextual information about judicial candidates.

We hope to do this every cycle from now on. We will start with a narrow focus — Clark County, where there are dozens of races this cycle. But we eventually hope to cover both urban counties and even delve into rural contests.

As always, we want your feedback. What are we doing right and what are we doing wrong? Email me at [email protected] with any thoughts.

As someone who has covered politics in this state for three and a half decades, I can’t tell you how excited I am about doing this. I hope to learn a lot and become a more informed voter, too.

Update at 11:08 a.m. on 4/9/20: View our questionnaires for incumbents here and for challengers here.


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