According to the Associated Press, Ohio Supreme Court statistics show that 69% of judicial races were uncontested this election, just down from 70% during an equivalent election year in 2010. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said people are casting what she calls “complimentary votes” in such races. “If you inform the voters, do you know that almost 70 percent of the judges that have been on the ballot in 2014 are unopposed, do you still think you’re electing your judges?” O’Connor said in an interview with the Associated Press about the most recent elections. Click here to view the article.
O’Connor favors a “merit selection” system where the Governor would appoint judges based on recommendations from a bipartisan commission, and voters would then cast ballots in retention elections two years later to decide whether the judges should be retained.
Merit selection is not a new concept in Ohio. In 1938 and 1987, Ohio voters declined to change the state constitution to eradicate the election of judges. Former Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer also favored merit selection. Before his death in 2010, Moyer was outspoken against the influence of money in judicial elections, and believed that the role of fundraising in judicial campaigns must be reduced, calling it “corrosive”.
Proponents of merit selection believe it results in more qualified judges than judicial elections. Those who advocate for such a method also argue that the system protects judicial independence by insulating the judicial selection process from the influence of partisan politics. Unlike processes where judges must run for election and re-election, merit selection eliminates the need for judges to fundraise, advertise and make campaign promises which could cause them to make rulings based on outside influences, instead of the law.
Opponents argue merit selection is still a political process. Board members are usually chosen by small groups, as opposed to being elected by voters. Generally, the governor and lawyers, through the state’s bar association, select members to serve on a merit selection board. Those against merit selection also believe voters should be allowed to have a more direct voice in determining which judges will serve in the courts. The activities of most merit selection commissions do not take place during meetings which are open to the public and the laws in many states specify that the names of candidates applying to become judges should remain confidential. Thus, opponents of merit selection also argue these systems should have more transparency.
Thirty three states currently use some form of merit selection.