COLUMBUS — Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor has made it her mission over the past few years to help educate the public about judicial candidates in Ohio and increase voter participation in judicial races. A significant step in that process has come to fruition with the launch of the Judicial Votes Count website.
O’Connor studied the voting patterns that came out of the Nov. 2, 2012, election in Cuyahoga County and found that as many as 40 percent of voters casting a ballot for president did not enter any votes for the judicial candidates.
“That fact and others led me to propose a three-point plan to reform judicial elections in Ohio. Two aspects of the plan include moving all judicial races to odd-numbered years and to the top of the ballot and increasing the qualifications to serve as judge,” O’Connor wrote in a press release.
“The third part of my plan became a reality (Aug. 26) with the launch of the first statewide judicial voter education website: JudicialVotesCount.org. For the first time, Ohioans will have access to quality information about all candidates for judge in the 2015 races.”
The website was created by O’Connor in conjunction wtih the Ohio Newspaper Association, the Ohio State Bar association, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the Ohio Association of Broadcasters and other organizations, as well as the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, which hosts the website.
The website includes information about what judges do, the duties of different courts and videos of former judges explaining how the court system works, as well as profiles and information about current judicial candidates.
A recent survey of Ohioans found that many do not cast a vote for judicial candidates because they do not know enough about the candidates. By law, judicial candidates are prohibited from running under a party label or declaring their positions on issues because they are expected to approach each case from a neutral position without predetermined biases.
Judges also are listed near the end of the ballot, so they are more likely to be overlooked or intentionally skipped. About half the respondants in the 2014 survey said they seldom vote in judicial elections.
Judges in Ohio are elected to six-year terms. This year, there are 84 candidates seeking 55 municipal judgeships in 28 counties across the state. Candidates for Supreme Court, appeals courts, common pleas courts and county judges are elected in even-numbered years, so those profiles will appear on the site next year.
Candidates are sent a request to complete a brief questionnaire, which includes information on their education and professional or judicial background. Those responses are shown exactly as they are submitted by the candidates. They also are asked why they are running for that seat and what non-judicial experience qualifies them for the position.
All candidates are asked to participate, and those who decline to do so are noted on the website as well.
There are no judicial candidates on the ballot in Darke County for 2015.