Opinion: Flaws of Ohio judicial campaign rules


Ray Paoletta is a junior political science major and a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]

Ray Paoletta

Judges are expected to be nonpartisan, and the goal of lifetime appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court is to allow the justices to turn away from party influences. This same goal is the reason that judges in Ohio run nonpartisan. Despite this, Ohio judicial elections are not completely nonpartisan.

The first flaw with elections is that they run in partisan primaries prior to the general election. Judges compete to be the nominees of each party, running with a party affiliation through the primary. When the general election rolls around, however, no judge has a party affiliation listed next to their name, so it seems like the judicial elections

are nonpartisan.  

Secondly, candidates for judge run as nonpartisan but can attend events with their political party. Judges are supposed to be nonpartisan, but when campaign season is in full swing, it is not uncommon to see candidates for judges attending every single party-related function in order to let people know his or her actual party affiliation. Even though voters do not see a party listed next to the names of judicial candidates on the ballot, the candidates make every effort to educate the public of his or her party affiliation.

The third problem with the nonpartisan election is that local and state parties endorse and campaign for their judicial candidates. Both Democrats and Republicans will make sure to send their voter bases slate cards that include the judges that each party endorses. Furthermore, local and state parties will go out and campaign for judicial candidates that are supposed to be nonpartisan.

To see this in action, we need to look no further than the yard signs for one northeast Ohio judicial candidate. Judge John Quinn, running for Summit County Domestic Relations Court in Summit County, added the word “democrat” to his yard signs, making it no secret what party he

associates with. 

The bottom line is that citizens expect judicial candidates to truly be nonpartisan. Candidates for judicial office may not have a political party on the ballot during general elections, but that is far from making it a true nonpartisan election. When a judicial candidate can go to party events, receive party endorsements and is campaigned for by local and state parties, it does not give the vibe of a nonpartisan judicial system. Ohio needs to either make its judicial campaigns completely nonpartisan by banning political parties from taking part in judicial campaigns, or make judicial races completely partisan. The way the rules currently are, judicial campaigns are called nonpartisan, but in reality, most voters know that all the judges are endorsed by a

particular party.