COLUMBUS (AP) -- Online feedback over eliminating party labels in Ohio's judicial primaries was strongly divided, helping explain why the state's top judge has sidelined the idea despite believing it's crucial to convincing the public that judges are impartial.
Sentiment shared with Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor as she finalized a package of judicial reforms
she is championing ranged widely. Some commenters felt removing judges' party affiliations from primary ballots would be akin to deceiving voters. Others said leaving the labels on misleads voters into thinking a judge's political view can be reflected in their decisions, which is prohibited.
"Removing party affiliation turns a blind eye to the realities of any election," one commenter favoring the party listings wrote. "The more information the public is given, the better."
"Party affiliation has NO PLACE whatsoever in judicial races or elections," wrote another.
The online comments were obtained by Associated Press through a records request.
One writer said removing party affiliations is disingenuous because it leads voters to believe party affiliations don't matter when they do. Another said the labels are only one of many qualities that an informed voter might look at.
"Voters make choices for different reasons," he wrote. "For example: voters may cast ballots for the gender or nationality of candidates. Should we eliminate gender specific first names or Irish or other ethnic last names?"
In an interview, O'Connor said public feedback was only one factor in her decision to exclude the idea from her reform package; it was also clear neither Republicans nor Democrats wanted to remove the labels. An unresolved Ohio case that's still pending seeks, in fact, to add party labels to Ohio's general elections for judges, which are now nonpartisan.
O'Connor said she opted to concentrate on the three strongest proposals that emerged from her yearlong review:
-- Moving judicial elections to odd-numbered years and the top of the ballot
-- Enhancing voter education on candidates running for judge by establishing an election information and engagement program
-- Increasing the basic qualifications to serve as judge
O'Connor said she continues to believe party labels are wrong for judicial races.
"Yes, it does give a cue to voters, but it's a miscue," she said. "If you rely on that miscue, it just reinforces the misinformation that politics matters."
Her proposal for stripping party labels from judicial primaries was well-received by members of the Ohio State Bar Association when she announced it last year. Polls show the public views judges as susceptible to political influence yet opposes eliminating judicial elections altogether and having judges be appointed.
Of 22 states that elect judges, 14 have nonpartisan elections and seven have overtly political contests. Ohio is the only state 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.