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Making Sure You Know Who You are Voting For

Senate Bill 80 Will Bring Clarity to Elections for Judges
By Theresa Gavarone
November 17, 2023
On The Record

Ohio’s statewide judicial elections needed a change: clarity for voters.

I sponsored Senate Bill 80 with Senator Cirino last General Assembly because Ohio Supreme Court and district courts of appeals races lacked basic transparency. The bill ensures a candidate’s party affiliation is next to their name on the ballot, whether they be a Democrat, Republican, or Independent. 

Before SB 80 took effect, Ohio was the one of the only states in the country that ran partisan primary elections for judicial races but “non-partisan” general elections.

That old system was dishonest and deceptive to Ohio voters. 

Judicial races are partisan. Candidates must win partisan primaries, and parties endorse candidates and give them resources to win. These candidates go to Republican or Democrat dinners and knock on doors alongside other party members.

Ohioans care about these facts. The average voter is aided at the ballot box by knowing the party affiliation of a potential Ohio Supreme Court justice or appellate court judge. 

And voters wanted this help. In a 2014 study done by the University of Akron’s Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, 65% of respondents stated that it would be either “very helpful” or “somewhat helpful” to have a party designation with the candidates name.

It is helpful. It’s easy to see how beneficial this change is to Ohioans participating in elections. 

Before I sponsored SB 80, I did some digging into our 2020 election results. More than ONE MILLION electors who voted in a Presidential, Congressional, General Assembly, or County race that year did not vote in either or both of the Ohio Supreme Court races. 

After Senate Bill 80 became effective, that significant drop off did not occur in our 2022 statewide races. For example, votes in the Governor’s race totaled 4,134,877. The Chief Justice race had 4,114,548, only 20,329 fewer comparatively. 

The numbers do not lie. That is a big win for voter transparency. 

Some have called into question why Senate Bill 80 did not extend to all judicial races in our state. 

Think about this. Our state Supreme Court covers all 88 counties. There are 12 Appeals Courts in Ohio, too. The Third District covers 17 counties. The Fourth District covers 14 counties. The only 3 Districts that have 1 county are home to our largest metropolitan areas: Columbus, Cincinnati, and Cleveland. 

That is a substantial number of people in each district. 

Most other courts in Ohio are local courts, like your county and city ones. 

The average Ohioan is more likely to know or get to know the candidate in their local judicial races. These candidates are part of the fabric of the community. They will likely be at your high school football game on a Friday night, at your favorite local restaurant on a Saturday, or at your church on Sunday morning.

No one can reasonably expect that same connection or experience with a candidate running for a statewide seat or for these districts that have up to 17 counties to cover. 

Beyond community connections, local courts are handling completely different subject matter than appeals courts or our Ohio Supreme Court. Voters can easily and frequently ask their local candidates about these issues. 

Anyone who argues that an R or D should not be next to their name when running for these large courts is trying to deceive voters.

That candidate likely does not believe in voter education or transparency. Or they are not proud to have that party designation in the first place.  

Whatever the reason, I’m proud to say I sponsored a bill that prioritizes Ohio voters, not candidates who want to hide from them. 

Sen. Theresa Gavarone represents Ohio Senate District 2