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Capital News: Chief Justice: Get out, votes for judges (and tell others, too)

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published: September 21, 2016 12:00 AM

Columbus -- In less than two months, eligible Ohioans will help decide the next president of the United States.

They'll also vote on a U.S. Senate race and a bunch of U.S. House races and for a whole slew of state Senate and House seats.

Somewhere way down the list -- far enough that some people don't even bother to make selections -- will be the names of judges, from the local to state levels.

"I've said that no matter the election cycle, judges get short shrift," Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor told an audience of judges this month, as part of her annual State of the Judiciary speech. "The fact that anywhere from 25 percent to 40 percent to 60 percent of voters fail to vote for judges on the ballot speaks to the obvious need for ways to encourage voters to educate themselves about the candidates for judge and to vote accordingly."

There's an easy way to accomplish that task: log onto JudicialVotesCount.org and start reading. That's the website that includes all sorts of information about candidates for the bench, including their educational backgrounds, their past jobs and answers to basic questions about their candidacies.

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It's good stuff, particularly in races with no political affiliations listed to help guide the electorate.

In an ideal world, voters would get up to speed on judicial races -- this year, that list includes 27 appeals court races, 116 common pleas races, 11 county court races and three Ohio Supreme Court races, O'Connor said.

"Despite what the media may think, there are more than elections for the president going on," she said. "We want people to vote, and we want them to be educated voters."

O'Connor also wants those educated voters to take it step further, too: "It would be a wonderful thing if you could contact your family, friends and colleagues by any means, but most specifically via social media, to let all know of the website and to encourage voters to log on and learn more. And once you've exhausted your social media contacts, ask all of them to resend the message This thing really could grow significantly if the social media campaign takes hold."

A Note to Judges

O'Connor also had a message to judges, in a crazy national election year where vitriol is flowing freely from all directions.

She offered: "We, you and I, are tied together and what we do individually reflects upon each of us in this room. When we exercise our powers responsibly, humbly, with due regard for the people we serve, we build trust. When we act arrogantly, irresponsibly, with disregard for the people who stand before us, we erode that trust across the system. With the internet and social media, what happens in one courthouse of this state is easily transmitted to every courthouse in this state, sometimes instantly. We live in an era of great public cynicism about public service and government. We do not, by our actions, need to feed that cynicism by taking our eyes off the reason for our existence -- to do justice."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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