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Judges discuss benefits of including party affiliation on ballots

Discuss benefits of including party affiliation on ballots

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine and Cynthia Wescott Rice, an 11th District Court of Appeals judge, squared off in a discussion about a bill to include political party affiliations for candidates running for Supreme Court and court of appeals seats on general election ballots.

The bill was approved in April by the state Senate and is being considered by the Ohio House. It is supported by Republicans, who control all branches of state government.

Republicans lost three of four Supreme Court races since 2018 and recently lost control of the majority on the statewide appellate branch.

DeWine, a Republican who is strongly considering a run next year for Supreme Court chief justice, favors the bill while Rice, a Democrat from Brookfield and chief judge of the Ohio Court of Appeals Judges’ Association, opposes it.

The two talked about the bill Tuesday in a virtual discussion sponsored by the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association and the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland.

DeWine said: “You have to start somewhere. The question isn’t whether it’s perfect reform. It’s whether it’s better than the system we have.”

But Rice said the proposal increases the politicizing of some judicial races by adding party affiliation.

She criticizes the bill for only requiring party affiliation for Supreme Court and court of appeals judge and not for local ones. Rice said the contention from supporters of the bill is people know their local judges, but she said that isn’t the case.

Adding party affiliation to these judicial seats will increase voter turnout for those races, DeWine said.

“Political affiliation is something some voters would find useful,” he said.

Rice agreed the change would increase the number of voters for judicial races.

“My concern is they’d be uninformed voters” who just side with a political party and “undermine the goal of electing the most qualified and experienced judges,” Rice said.

“What’s the value in that?” she asked.

This isn’t the first time these two faced each other. DeWine beat Rice by 12.6 percent in a 2016 race for an open Supreme Court seat.

Ohio is the only state in the country that has partisan primaries and then nonpartisan general elections for judges.

But Rice said only a handful of states have partisan elections at all for judges.

At one point, she suggested nonpartisan judicial elections with no primaries.

Rice also said if party affiliation is included, why stop there and perhaps a judicial candidate’s race, religion and gender also should be on the ballot.

DeWine said, “I hope voters don’t vote on just party labels,” but it’s something that helps a person decide the judicial philosophy of candidates.

The change would improve judicial elections by bring more transparency to them, DeWine said.

Rice said judges are concerned by this proposed change as the polarization of the country during the past five years shouldn’t be part of judicial races.

dskolnick@vindy.com

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