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Benchmarks: Journal of the New York State Unified Court System

Summer 2006

Judicial Institute Hosts Voter Education Symposium

MORE THAN 80 LAWYERS, JUDGES, educators and civic organization representatives participated in a May 17 symposium at the New York State Judicial Institute that offered both a state and national perspective on enhancing voter participation in judicial elections.

The day’s first plenary session brought together representatives of groups currently involved in New York voter education to share information and discuss a statewide agenda. Chaired by Fern Schair, recent president of the Fund for Modern Courts, the panel included A. Vincent Buzard, then-president of the New York State Bar Association; Nicole Gordon, then-executive director of the New York City Campaign Finance Board; Alan Rothstein, general counsel of the New York City Bar Association and member of Citizens Union; and James Sample of the Brennan Center for Justice of New York University School of Law. The panelists led a lively discussion about ways to improve the availability and coordination of information to help voters make informed choices about judicial candidates, including the use and impact of voter guides.

The second plenary session brought the national perspective to the discussion. Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake Campaign, moderated the exchange among Cynthia Canary of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, Dr. David Rottman of the National Center for State Courts and Professor Roy Schotland of the Georgetown Law Center.

Afternoon workshops focused on specific aspects of voter education, including community outreach and the media. In a voter guide workshop, participants heard about recent efforts in New York and North Carolina to prepare on-line and paper guides and offered insights into the practical, logistical and ethical issues involved.

Students at Fordham University School of Law are digesting the workshop proceedings. Based on participants’ comments on the digests, a “Plan of Action” will be drafted to develop leadership on public education about judicial candidates and judicial elections.

The Symposium on Enhancing Voter Participation in Judicial Elections was a direct response to the recommendation on voter education by the Commission to Promote Public Confidence in Judicial Elections.* The symposium was sponsored by the Judicial Institute, the Fund for Modern Courts, the New York City Bar Association, the New York County Lawyers’ Association and the League of Women Voters.

*The commission also made recommendations relating to candidate selection, public financing, retention elections, judicial campaign practice committees and campaign finance disclosure. The commission’s reports are on-line at www.nycourts.gov/reports.

Joy Beane is Executive Assistant to the Dean of the Judicial Institute.

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