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OH chief justice wants nonpartisan judge primaries

May. 09, 2013 @ 01:45 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Party labels would be stripped from Ohio's judicial primaries under a sweeping election reform proposal that the state Supreme Court chief justice was expected to unveil to fellow lawyers Thursday.

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor was to lay out an eight-point proposal for strengthening judicial elections, including instituting nonpartisan primaries, at the Ohio State Bar Association's annual meeting in Cleveland.

She says her aim is to reassure the public that courts are unbiased and increase voter engagement in the election of judges.

Ohio is the only state in the nation that identifies the party of prospective judges in its primaries and then sends winners into a general election in which party labels aren't used. O'Connor wants to see Ohio join 14 other states where judicial races are strictly nonpartisan. Another seven states hold overtly political judicial elections.

The remaining 28 states don't have elected judges.

O'Connor's proposal comes at a time when polls show the public views judges as susceptible to political influence, yet most Ohioans oppose doing away with judicial elections altogether.

"Now is the time to revisit this topic once and for all, not to do away with judicial elections, which voters made clear they want, but to strengthen them," she said.

Additional elements of her proposal include:

— raising the position of judicial races on the ballot to increase voter participation;

— moving judicial races to odd-numbered years to avoid information overload for the public;

— increasing the basic qualifications for judges;

— expanding judges' terms;

— centralizing and expanding civic educational and voting resources on judicial elections.

O'Connor plans to launch a series of public discussions, both online and in person, to discuss her ideas before introducing a final plan later this year.