Why are there judges on my ballot and how can I learn more about them?

Oct 15, 2020, 4:20 PM | Updated: Dec 30, 2022, 11:22 am
Murray Racial profiling...
(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — As a voter, you may be reading your ballot when you think: Why are there judges on my ballot? The good news: with mail-in ballots going to Utahns starting this week, that means you have time to do your homework about judges while sitting at your kitchen table.

Judges on the Utah ballot

Nearly 60 judges in Utah face voters thumbs’ up or down in the 2020 election.

Utah is one of six states with judicial retention elections during the November general election. These elections only happen in even-numbered years in Utah. It’s rare for voters to reject a judge in a retention election.

Judges on the ballot do not compete against another candidate. Voters are given a yes or no choice about whether to keep the judge on the bench for another term.

Why should I care?

Local judges decide family disputes over contested estates, child custody and adoptions, divorces and crimes.

The Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Committee (JPEC) gathers and analyzes on a judge’s performance and conducts multi-faceted evaluations of all Utah judges and provides that performance information to voters. 

The Utah Legislature created JPEC in 2008 to help inform voters about judges and their performance. 

JPEC evaluates judges’ performances based on “minimum performance standards,” according to Jennifer Yim, the committee’s executive director. She said it’s common to see most judges on the ballots receive a unanimous vote from JPEC.

Read about judges’ courtroom evaluations: judges.utah.gov

Voters decide whether to retain a judge, but the governor originally appoints them to their positions. When there is a vacancy, the governor picks from a list of five nominees offered by an independent commission. That nominee is then subject to confirmation by the Utah Senate.

Most judges face a retention election every six years, while Utah Supreme Court justices are on the ballot every 10 years. This year, only Justice John A. Pearce is running for re-election to the Utah Supreme Court.

The Utah Constitution states: “Selection of judges shall be based solely upon consideration of fitness for office without regard to any partisan political consideration.”

From the state’s inception in 1896 until 1951, judges participated in partisan elections. But in 1951, legislation changed the process for judges to nonpartisan elections. It was not until 1985 that the state’s judicial elections became unopposed retention elections.

Find more information about candidates and issues in the 2020 election with our Election Guide, here

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Why are there judges on my ballot and how can I learn more about them?