Last May, at the Ohio State Bar Association annual meeting, in her State of the Judiciary Address Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor announced eight questions to start a dialogue to strengthen judicial elections in Ohio. These are the questions she posed:
1. Should Ohio Change the Law So Judicial Races Are No Longer Listed at the End of the Ballot?
2. Should All Judicial Elections Be Held in Odd-Numbered Years?
3. Should Ohio Centralize & Expand Its Civic Education Programming and Institute a Judicial Voter Guide?
4. Should Ohio Eliminate Party Affiliation on the Ballot in Judicial Primaries?
5. Should Ohio Join the Other States that Have a Formal, Non-Partisan System for Recommending Nominees to the Governor to Fill Judicial Vacancies?
6. Should Appointments to the Ohio Supreme Court Require the Advice and Consent of the Ohio Senate?
7. Should Ohio Increase the Basic Qualifications for Serving as a Judge?
8. Should Ohio Increase the Length of Judges’ Terms?
Today, at the OSBA annual meeting in Columbus, during her State of the Judiciary Address, the Chief recommended the following action on three of these issues, after a year of discussing her eight questions with interested parties around the state.
- 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. Beginning in 2015, there 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 would require a statutory change. Presently, the practice requirements for all judges is six years. Under this proposal, the requirements for judge would be eight years for common pleas court, ten years for appellate courts and twelve years for Ohio Supreme Court justices.
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 have the necessary support for enactment at this time.