Given the amount of media coverage devoted to the presidential election this year, many Ohioans may believe that the race for the Oval Office is the only one on the ballot in November.
In fact, I would argue that there are statewide, regional, and local candidates on the ballot that will have a far greater impact on the daily lives of Ohio voters than the president will have. Those individuals are judges. There are more than 150 seats up for election statewide this fall. Judicial candidates are running for the Ohio Supreme Court, courts of appeals, common pleas courts, and county courts. It is imperative that voters get to know these candidates in order to make an informed decision on Nov. 8.
In order to increase meaningful voter participation, I launched last year the first statewide judicial voter education website: JudicialVotesCount.org. For the first time, Ohioans have access to quality information about all candidates for judge.
In addition to candidate profiles, JudicialVotesCount.org features information about what judges do, descriptions about the duties of different courts, and brief videos of former judges explaining how the court system works.
My Judicial Votes Count partners include the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, which houses the website; the Ohio State Bar Association; the League of Women Voters of Ohio; the Ohio Newspaper Association; and the Ohio Association of Broadcasters.
There are many reasons to better educate Ohioans about judges and the judiciary. One reason is judicial voter drop-off. A quarter of the electorate – or more – routinely skips voting for judges, who, by law, are listed near the bottom of the ballot.
Another impetus for creating the website came from a Bliss Institute survey of 1,067 registered Ohio voters who said the biggest reason they don’t vote for judge is because they don’t know enough about the candidates.
I believe it’s unreasonable to expect voters to be knowledgeable about judicial candidates when that information used to be difficult to find. JudicialVotesCount.org strives to give voters easy access to quality information. It is my hope that by raising awareness about the availability of this type of information, voter participation in judicial races will increase. Better still, I hope that more Ohioans become better educated about their judges and vote in a more informed way, rather than relying on a comfortable name on the ballot.
You can connect with Judicial Votes Count via a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a YouTube channel to spread the word. Please follow, like, and watch.
While there can be no doubt that presidents make important decisions every day, judges make those same kind of decisions that hit closer to home for most Ohioans. Go to JudicialVotesCount.org and take the time to learn who’s on the ballot for your local court, their legal background, and why they are running for judge. Take that knowledge, step into the ballot box on Nov. 8, and make your judicial vote count.
Maureen O’Connor is chief justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio.