February 25, 2014

There are so many names and so many races on a voter’s ballot that it’s hard not to get confused. Who are these people, you might think, as you wander down the ballot and reach races like “Family District Judge, 301st Judicial District.”

You’re not alone. It’s the rare voter — maybe even the unicorn of voters — who goes to the ballot box with a clear idea of whom to vote for in every single race.

But that doesn’t decrease the importance of the down-ballot races. The person elected the next judge of the 204th Judicial District might well have more impact on your city and even on your life than whoever gets sent to Washington or Austin. It’s important to go into the voting booth with some power over your ballot, and there are many good ways to do that.

You can start with The Dallas Morning News Voter Guide. The guide was developed after candidates in more than 50 races filled out questionnaires and then came in for face-to-face interviews. Their answers to questions on important issues, both written and in person, were the basis for the paper’s recommendations. And The News is among few newspapers to do such judicial candidate reviews.

But The News’ guide isn’t the only resource available to voters. Other groups do the same hard work of vetting candidates to make it easier for voters to pick and choose. The League of Women Voters of Dallas is an excellent resource. The group’s voter guide posed questions to candidates in 25 contested races for the March 4 primary election. Their summary about why judicial elections are important sums it up:

“Judges make decisions about fundamental issues that affect all of us — family life, education, health care, housing, employment, finances, discrimination, civil rights, public safety and government actions. Those decisions can have long-lasting impact on individuals, groups and the public as a whole.”

The Texas Civil Justice League, a nonpartisan group backed largely by business interests, is dedicated to increasing voter participation in judicial races. It has developed a website, texasjudges.org, that compares but does not endorse candidates in major judicial races. The guide is helpful, particularly when it comes to the higher courts.

Those are just a start. The Committee for a Qualified Judiciary, the Dallas Bar Association and the Texas Bar Association are good resources for information about the judiciary.

Apart from that, there are a number of groups with particular agendas that have online voter guides. Just search online for Texas voter guide. But beware that the guide’s sponsors might have ideas that don’t match up with your own. Find out what the sponsor’s agenda is before diving in.

Finally, voters forget sometimes that they can take material into the voting booth to help them cast their ballots. It’s too much to expect a person to remember who they thought the best candidate was in every race. But with a little guidance, making an informed choice is much easier.

Voter resources

The Dallas Morning News Voter Guide, dallasnews.com/voterguide

The Dallas Morning News Editorial Board recommendations, dallasnews.com/opinion

The League of Women Voters, vote411.org

Texas Civil Justice League, texasjudges.org

Dallas Bar Association, dallasbar.org/judiciary

Texas Bar Association, texasbar.com

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