Analysis: The 2018 Cook County Judicial Primaries by the Numbers

Congratulations to the judicial candidates who prevailed in this week’s primaries! Even though some of the 40 candidates for election to the Circuit Court of Cook County that the Benchmark Judicial Voting Guide promoted did not win, voters appear to have opted in almost every case for candidates with strong qualifications.


According to the Cook County Clerk’s office, out of 1,549,688 registered voters, 441,732 voters in suburban Cook County cast ballots – 28.5%.

In the City of Chicago itself, with 1,494,199 voters registered, turnout was 460,920 – 30.85%.

A total of 902,652 people voted in the 2018 primaries in Chicago and suburban Cook County.

Countywide Judicial Races

Votes cast among Democrats:

  • only 527,890 votes were cast in the uncontested race for the Dunford vacancy;
  • by contrast, at the high end, 610,145 cast votes in the three-way race for the Brewer vacancy.

Percentage winners:

  • Judge Cecilia A. Horan was the highest percentage winner, with almost 78% of the vote in a two-person race against Keith L. Spence.
  • Kathleen Theresa Lanahan was the lowest percentage winner, with just over 37% of the vote in a contest against three other candidates.

Because no Republican candidates ran for judge countywide, those who won the Democratic primary on Tuesday have already won the November election.

Subcircuit Judicial Races

Thirteen out of fifteen smaller districts in Cook County – subcircuits – had judicial elections.

Votes cast:

  • The smallest vote totals were among Republicans running in suburban subcircuits. In the Zelezinski vacancy race, for example, Republican candidate Karla Marie Fiaoni drew 13,366 votes, but she ran unopposed.
  • By contrast, Scott McKenna beat his single opponent on the Democratic side of the contest for the Zelezinski vacancy, with more than 52% of the vote and a total of 46,094 votes were cast in that race.

McKenna and Fiaoni will face off in the November general election.

8th Subcircuit Drama

The 8th Subcircuit stretches along the lakefront entirely within Chicago’s city limits. It featured three races, and more than 54,000 votes were cast in each.

These races are notable because judges who are currently sitting by Supreme Court appointment lost in all three races:

  • Judge Robin D. Shoffner
  • Judge Michael A. Forti
  • Judge Myron “Mike” Mackoff

All three will step down from the bench in December unless they secure appointment as associate judges by the Circuit Court of Cook County – a story for another day.

All three were also on the Democratic Party’s slate, so one wonders whether the controversy surrounding Cook County Assessor/Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joseph Berrios had reverberative effect. Maybe it’s just coincidental that the winners in the 8th subcircuit races were the first candidate listed in all three races.

Having the Job Is No Guarantee of Keeping It

The outcomes for Judges Shoffner, Forti, and Mackoff were repeated across Cook County. Besides those three, 12 other sitting judges lost their seats. By contrast, 14 primary candidates already sitting by Supreme Court appointment get to keep their jobs. Put another way, more than half of the 29 judges sitting by appointment lost the elections to keep their seats.

So the extent to which already having the job helps a candidate win the job is obviously debatable.

Contested Races in November’s General Election

The 12th, 13th, and 15th subcircuits in suburban Cook County will each have a Democrat and a Republican on the ballot come November.

  • 12 is in the north-central section of the county.
  • 13 is in the northwest corner of the county, where there will be two contested races in the general election.
  • 15 is in the far south of the county.

Here are the Benchmark recommendations for candidates in competition in November:

  • 12th subcircuit (Maki vacancy): Joel Chupack
  • 13th subcircuit (Crane vacancy): Ketki “Kay” Steffen
  • 13th subcircuit (Lawrence vacancy): no recommendation (see the Benchmark Guide for Benchmark recommendation criteria)
  • 15th subcircuit (Zelezinski vacancy): Scott McKenna

Bar Association Ratings

The hard work of Chicago-area bar groups’ judicial evaluation committees seems to have made a difference:

  • Not a single candidate found uniformly “not recommended” or “not qualified” by the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening or the Chicago Bar Association got elected. This has occurred in recent elections.
  • Only four winners out of a total field of 110 had one “NR” or “NQ” rating.
  • Only two winners had more than one “NR” or “NQ” rating.
  • One candidate won despite having 10 negative ratings out of 12. She was part of a powerful coordinated groundswell and deserves our support as she transitions from practicing law to sitting on the bench.

It is unlikely that Illinoisans will change how we put judges on the bench any time soon, given that our state constitution mandates electing them and that experience suggests that other systems can be even more corrupt than an electoral one. It’s our system, the people’s system, which means it’s ours to cultivate and maintain in the service of justice.

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