Local that Works

Local that Works spotlights innovative and replicable content, engagement and revenue initiatives at public radio and TV stations and nonprofit and digital news organizations in the U.S. LTW includes an annual contest and a database (below). LTW produces webinars that offer insights into projects and organizations that are reshaping local civic journalism.

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Injustice Watch
Nonprofit News Org/Other
Amanda Miley
[email protected]

Each election cycle, Injustice Watch compiles a guide with information about the people running for judge in Cook County, IL. While judicial elections may seem obscure, judges have immense power over peoples’ lives, and once they are elected, they are very rarely removed from the bench. With approximately 400 judges in Cook County, our goal is to educate voters about the importance of these elections and provide our community with the resources they need to make informed decisions.

For the 2022 primary election, we created an advisory board and sought feedback from former judges and judicial candidates, people who have been directly affected by the court system, lawyers, academics, and community organizers. We partnered with Chicago Public Radio’s “Curious City” podcast and asked Cook County residents what they wanted to know about judicial elections. We also partnered with Equip for Equality, a local disability rights organization, to learn how we could make our guide accessible to voters with disabilities.

Our editorial team spent months researching the 75 judicial candidates, including each person’s work history, legal experience, community involvement, campaign finance information, and more. We sent every candidate a survey asking them about their upbringing, experience, and thoughts on judicial power. We compiled all the information, translated it to Spanish, and created digital and print versions of our judicial election guide.

We printed 180,000 copies of our guide and prioritized distribution in the communities that have been most directly affected by the court system. We sent 3,000 copies to eligible voters in the Cook County Jail and partnered with more than 80 community organizations, churches, and local businesses to distribute copies throughout Cook County. We hosted a distribution party and handed out guides on sidewalks in 22 Chicago neighborhoods. And we partnered with several local media organizations and included our guide as an insert in 11 community papers.

We shared our guide at community events, sent postcards about our guide to Cook County residents, took over Block Club Chicago’s morning newsletter, hosted a Reddit Ask Me Anything, and partnered with WBEZ’s “Curious City” to create a podcast and host a judicial elections office hour. Our reporters were guests on several local news shows to promote the guide, including “City Cast Chicago,” CAN-TV, The Daily Line, and WBEZ’s “Reset.”

This election, we reached at least 300,000 people in Cook County with our digital and print judicial election guides. That’s nearly half of the total number of voters who cast ballots in Cook County in the primary election. Our print guides were distributed in all of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods and in more than half of the county’s suburbs. And a larger percentage of people participated in these races than in previous years. (Note: In the last two retention elections that we produced a guide, voters elected not to retain a sitting judge - something that hadn’t happened since 1990.)

Our community has told us that we've had an impact. Below are a few comments from readers who chose to support our work with a donation:

“This was the most helpful tool I’ve used. At a critical junction for our democracy you made voting for judges — arguably one of the most important parts of the ballot — easy and not intimidating. Thanks.”

“I used your guide, spending about 45 minutes with it, then sent my marked results to at least five other people – who may have used them. Most of the choices were obvious, although not all. It is difficult to know who to vote for in many races and the judges are the hardest. I appreciate your work.”

“Your website helped me make sense of an utterly confusing ballot. Your UI and depth of information are so intuitive and relevant, respectively, that I had to stop filling out my ballot to donate. Keep up the great work and thank you so much."

Our continued work on judicial elections is supported by several foundations, donors, and corporate sponsors. In 2022, we’ve received more than $120,000 of support specifically for our judicial election guide and #CheckYourJudges engagement campaign. Much of our support comes from readers who use our guide.