Bills seek party labels on ballots for Ohio Supreme Court

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When voters cast their ballots for the Ohio Supreme Court, the justice candidates are not labeled by party affiliation.

That could change if a new bill proposed by a pair of Northern Ohio Republicans is successfully enacted. 

Senate Bill 80, introduced by Republican state Sens. Theresa Gavarone of Bowling Green and Jerry Cirino of Kirtland, would require party affiliations be listed for candidates to the Ohio Supreme Court and to the various Courts of Appeals. There is companion legislation in the Ohio House of Representatives from Reps. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, and D.J. Swearingen, R-Huron.

Candidates for lower level courts — such as municipal court, county court and the court of common pleas — would remain listed on ballots without their party affiliation.

In Ohio, candidates campaign as political party nominees but do not have their party labels included on the General Election ballot. 

While this system is meant to emphasize the non-partisan work of a judge or Ohio Supreme Court justice, it also leads many Ohioans to skip casting votes in these elections. Last November, there were more than 5.8 million votes cast for the presidential race in Ohio, compared to fewer than 5 million votes cast for the two Ohio Supreme Court races. 

Gavarone believes this process does not give Ohioans enough information at the voting booth.

This is not the first legislative attempt to change the ballot rules. A bipartisan bill from last term sought to make party affiliation an “opt-out” system, with candidates having to deliberately choose not to have their party listed on the ballot. 

SB 80 awaits being assigned to an Ohio Senate committee and to have its first hearing. 

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