Judicial Race Changes

Big changes coming soon could impact high-level judicial races in Ohio

Under current Ohio law, judicial candidates run in partisan primaries but are listed on the general election ballot without partisan designation. While Ohio is the only state to nominate judges in party primaries then elect them on general election ballots without party labels, this is about to change soon. Prior to passing the state budget and leaving for summer break, legislation to apply partisan labels to certain high-level judicial races passed the Ohio General Assembly and was inked by Gov. DeWine. Under Senate Bill 80, judicial candidates for the Ohio Supreme Court and for Ohio’s 12 courts of appeals will have a partisan label on the general election ballot. Trial court judges in the courts of common pleas, municipal courts, and county courts would still be unable to add a partisan designation on the general election ballot.

Notably, this law takes effect on Sept. 30 and will be in place in time for the 2022 election cycle in which three seats will be up on the Ohio Supreme Court. Last fall’s election cycle resulted in the conservative majority being shrunk by one seat, thus the Court now has a slim 4-3 split in judicial philosophy. Unfortunately, despite voter education efforts on the importance of judicial races, voter drop-off has remained high in judicial races, including the Ohio Supreme Court with nearly one million Ohioans that voted in the presidential race skipping these races altogether in the last election. To help with voter education, the state budget that was just passed contains an earmark of $150,000 in each year of the biennium to promote information about candidates running for the Ohio Supreme Court and appellate court seats.

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