Judge drops idea of nonpartisan primaries

JULIE CARR SMYTH AP Statehouse Correspondent Published:

COLUMBUS (AP) -- Ohio's top judge has dropped her proposal to strip party labels from Ohio's judicial primaries after a year's worth of feedback on the idea was mixed.

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor had advocated the nonpartisan primaries as part of a package of proposed judicial changes she rolled out last year.

In a white paper that accompanied her address Thursday to the Ohio State Bar Association's annual convention, O'Connor named the proposal as among those left on the cutting-room floor" after study and deliberation of her original eight.

She said the idea has been discarded "reluctantly, but not permanently." O'Connor said three proposals emerged that she believes can strengthen judicial elections:

• Moving judicial elections to odd-numbered years;

• Enhancing voter education on candidates running for judge and

• Increasing the basic qualifications to serve as judge.

She asked the lawyers' group to support her as she takes the plan to state legislators and Gov. John Kasich in coming weeks to advocate for relevant legislation.

O'Connor said it became apparent that moving forward with all eight of her 2013 proposals would be too cumbersome, but the idea of nonpartisan primaries was the hardest to give up.

"Of the eight proposals, this one drew the most interest and the most comments on the judicial selection website. Public comment was split right down the middle," she said. "This idea also generated the loudest response from the audience when I answered a rhetorical 'no' to the question of whether party affiliation has any bearing on races for an office that requires absolute impartiality."

O'Connor was greeted with applause at the bar association's 2013 convention in Cleveland when she declared: "Party affiliation has no place in judicial elections, period."

Her initiative came as polls showed the public views judges as susceptible to political influence, yet a strong majority of Ohioans oppose doing away with judicial elections altogether, she said at the time.

Of 22 states that elect judges, 14 have nonpartisan elections and seven have overtly political contests. 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.

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