Professor Ric Simmons creates interactive website for voting in state supreme court elections
By: James Grega, Jr.
In September of 2020, Professor Ric Simmons launched ChooseYourJudges.org, an interactive website designed to educate voters on who to vote for in judicial elections based on the voters’ personal viewpoints.
“I had been frustrated for many years seeing that people weren’t voting in judicial elections,” he said on his motivation to design the site. “Most voters either leave that part of the ballot blank, or they vote with almost no information about the candidates.”
ChooseYourJudges allows a user to select their state and then answer a series of questions pertaining to their personal preferences. After the user completes the survey, the website recommends candidates for the user in the next judicial election.
A smaller version of the website was launched in 2010, but it only covered a handful of states. Now expanded, the website currently has surveys available for 11 of the states that hold elections for its supreme court, with research continuing for the remaining states. In the few weeks since it has gone live, the site has attracted thousands of voters, and is now averaging nearly 1,000 hits per day.
In order to collect the data required to put together the site, Simmons brought together a number of student research assistants over the summer of 2020 to research how each of the judicial candidates voted in thousands of cases. With that information, Simmons said his team was able to construct an algorithm that aligns users with their preferred candidates for their state’s supreme court.
“When the President is deciding who to nominate for a federal judgeship, he or she is very aware of the candidates’ voting record and makes his or her nomination accordingly,” he said. “So, when voters make their own decisions about who to select for their state’s supreme court, they should have the same information.”
While most things around the country came to a halt over the summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Simmons’ research assistants were able to conduct their research virtually through WestLaw and LexisNexis. The students—rising 3Ls Kristen Eby and Madison Hill, and rising 2Ls Hala Abdeljaber, Tristan Akers, Leah Finley, Jesse Plaska, and Joseph Van T. Hooft—began in late April and worked through the summer until classes started in August, allowing for the site to launch in early September.
With the 2020 election just a month away, Simmons hopes that the new website will not only encourage more people to cast their votes in judicial elections, but also give more thought to their vote as well.
“I think most voters don’t take enough time to think about who they are voting for in judicial races,” he said. “Hopefully they will look at these candidates more closely and learn more about them.”
Simmons added that the site is especially important because most people want to know more about the judges they are voting for, and often the judges political party is not a very useful guide to how the judge will rule on cases, especially at the state court level.
“Many judges have judicial philosophies that are not really good fits with partisan politics. You might have a candidate who is Republican but doesn’t align with all of the Republican issues in certain areas,” he said. “They tend to have philosophies that apply differently in different types of cases, and that is what I tried to translate into the website.”
Simmons updates the site often with blog posts that pertain to state supreme court elections and hopes that voters will continue to seek out the proper information needed to make an educated selection on their ballot.