20 Just. Sys. J. 1 (1998-1999)
Campaigns in Judicial Retention Elections: Do They Make a Difference

handle is hein.journals/jusj20 and id is 21 raw text is: Campaigns in Judicial Retention
Elections: Do They Make a
Larry Aspin*
The article reports the results of an empirical study of the effects of campaigning in
Illinois judicial retention elections. Examining judicial retention elections from 1980
through 1992 reveals: half the judges standing for retention engaged in campaign activ-
it),; while the amount of money raised is modest by today's partisan campaign standards,
the judges contributed only a small portion of the money spent on their behalf, and, most
important, campaigning has no discernible influence on the retention election.
One aspect of the conventional wisdom about judicial retention elections is that they
very infrequently involve campaigning either by the judge standing for retention or by a
group supporting or opposing the judge. At least from the judge's position, neither the
structure of retention elections nor the historical record creates incentives to campaign.
In retention elections there is no opponent to criticize the judge or draw votes away. The
judges appear alone on the ballot, and the voter has a simple choice of retaining or not
retaining. Furthermore, laws or codes of conduct often prevent judges from campaign-
ing unless opposed. Even if allowed to campaign, the historical record suggests there is
little need to campaign-judges in the vast majority of retention elections (i.e., approx-
imately 99 percent) are retained.
In contrast to the conventional wisdom, a multistate survey of judges found 13.2
percent of the judges standing for retention engaged in campaigning (Aspin and Hall,
1994). The campaign activity was found primarily in Illinois-seventy-seven of the
eighty-five judges who reported engaging in campaign activity were from Illinois.
Subsequent research shed some light on why half of the Illinois judges standing for
retention actively campaigned for their retention (Aspin and Hall, 1996). Yet other
research provides some information on the financing of both judicial retention cam-
paigns in Illinois (Nicholson and Nicholson, 1994) and campaigns in other types of judi-
cial elections (e.g., Arrington, 1996; Champagne, 1988; Schotland, 1985). However,
absent from the research record on retention elections is any systematic investigation as
to whether campaigning in retention elections is effective. Does campaigning by judges
affect their judicial retention elections?
Larry Aspin is a professor in the political science departinent, Bradley University.

The Justice System journal, Volumrne 20, Number 1 (1998)

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