New Study Highlights Need for Expanded Voter Information in Judicial Races
The biggest reason Ohioans say they don’t vote for judges is because they don’t know enough about the candidates. These and other results from a survey of 1,000 registered Ohio voters were discussed today at the annual Associated Press Legislative Preview by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.
The survey, which was conducted in October last year by the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, focused on the drop off in votes cast in judicial races.
Chief Justice O’Connor has partnered with Bliss, the Ohio State Bar Association, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, and the Ohio Newspaper Association to better educate Ohioans about judges to increase voter participation.
Scheduled to be launched in time for November’s election, the partners will use the survey results to build a one-stop shop judicial voter education website that will contain information on all individual judicial candidates in all jurisdictions, what judges do, and descriptions about the duties of different courts. Associated marketing and communications efforts will raise awareness of the existence of the website and the method for judges and judicial candidates to submit their information to populate the site.
In speaking out on the issue over the last two years, Chief Justice O’Connor has expressed concern that in some elections more than a quarter of the electorate skips voting for judges who are listed near the bottom of the ballot. About half of the 2014 survey respondents reported drop-off in judicial elections.
“Judges make decisions daily that impact the lives and liberties of Ohioans,” Chief Justice O’Connor said. “We are doing a disservice to Ohio voters when they tell us we are not getting them the information they need to make an informed choice. That’s why we want to supply voters with comprehensive and quality information about judges and emphasize that it’s important to vote for judges.”
“The Ohio State Bar Association has a longstanding commitment to civics education, to helping Ohioans understand the importance of our three co-equal branches of government, and to instilling public trust and confidence in our judiciary, said Martin E. Mohler, OSBA president. “This joint effort we are undertaking to inform citizens about judicial candidates and the positions they seek goes a long way toward fulfilling these goals and will provide a substantive, meaningful, and independent source of information for Ohio voters.”
Another survey statistic found that 45 percent of registered voters say that a non-partisan guide to judicial elections would be “very helpful.”
“For 95 years, the League of Women Voters has worked to provide voters with the information they need to make informed choices about their government,” said Nancy G. Brown, LWV of Ohio president. “We are delighted to work with the Chief Justice, Bar Association, and Bliss Institute to bring Ohioans the information they want on how to select our state judges. We are particularly pleased to see the survey results that voters find the professional background of judges to be the most important thing to know, far above the political party affiliation, as the League supports a nonpartisan judiciary.”
The judicial voter website is one part of the Chief Justice’s three-point plan to reform judicial elections in Ohio. The other aspects include moving judicial elections to odd years and judicial candidates to the top of the ballot and increasing the qualifications to serve as judge.
“The results are revealing as to why voters are not voting for other candidates lower on the ballot, such as judges, and an overwhelming majority say they don’t know enough about the candidates,” said John C. Green, Director of the Bliss Institute and a Distinguished Professor in Political Science. “Our task now will be to take what we’ve learned in this survey of 1,067 registered voters and develop accessible material to help all Ohioans become better informed about judicial candidates and thus increase participation in judicial elections.”
Access the survey from the Bliss website (uakron.edu/bliss/).