Chief Justice Announces Plan to Reform Judicial Elections
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor today called for an amendment to the Ohio Constitution to move all judicial elections together to odd-numbered years as part of a three-point plan to improve judicial elections and strengthen Ohio courts.
“I have arrived at an inescapable conclusion: We have to offer the voters a better way to select judges; one not based on the ‘name game,’ but on information and focus,” the Chief Justice said in her annual address to the Ohio State Bar Association today in Columbus.
“We need to elevate judicial elections. We need to lift them up. We need to make them more visible to Ohio voters and also demonstrate that they are no less valued or less important than races in the legislative and executive branches,” Chief Justice O’Connor said.
Last May, Chief Justice O’Connor proposed eight judicial reform ideas for consideration, and she spent the past year discussing the issue with interested parties around the state, leading to the formulation of the plan announced today.
Chief Justice O’Connor said her plan is detailed in a white paper available for download at www.OhioJudicialReform.org. She urged policymakers and citizens to read her research and her proposals on the website. She said she will be reaching out to legislative leaders and the governor in the coming weeks to garner support for her plan.
Chief Justice O’Connor’s three-point plan includes:
- Elevating judicial elections by holding them all together in odd-numbered years and moving them to the top of the ballot. This would require both a constitutional amendment and certain legislative changes.
- Educating voters about judicial elections and encouraging them to participate. The chief justice announced a program that will launch in 2015 and will be a permanent, ongoing education and information campaign including an online statewide judicial voter guide. The program will be housed at the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. Partners in the program will include the Ohio State Bar Association and the League of Women Voters of Ohio.
- Increasing the basic qualifications to serve as a judge. This proposal is based on recommendations by a panel that examined the issue in 2003 and would require a statutory change.
“There are three reasons we must act,” Chief Justice O’Connor said. “One: Polls show that even though Ohioans want to continue to elect judges, they believe that judges are influenced by politics, by contributions, and by other factors. Two: The numbers are clear that at least one quarter of the electorate does not participate in judicial races. Three: The level of knowledge and understanding about the judiciary among the general public is inadequate. Voters do not have easy access to quality information.”
Chief Justice O’Connor emphasized that other elements of her proposal from last year – including non-partisan judicial primaries and nominating commissions for judicial appointments by the governor – might still merit consideration in the future but do not realistically enjoy the necessary support for enactment at this time.
For more information about Chief Justice O’Connor’s three-point plan, visit www.OhioJudicialReform.org.