About 25 percent of voters in Ohio don’t make a selection when they come to the judicial races on a ballot.
In a poll conducted last year by the University of Akron, 63 percent of voters said they often skip those races because they don’t know enough about the candidates.
With that in mind, the Ohio Supreme Court and partner organizations launched a website this month aimed at making voters more aware of the courts and who is running for judge.
www.JudicialVotesCount.org provides a “Know Your Candidates” link with biographical information submitted by those on the Nov. 3 ballot for judge, as well as their answers to questions about their qualifications and reasons for running.
Voters who go to the site will discover three contested races for Franklin County Municipal Court judge:
• Carrie Glaeden, a Municipal Court judge since 2004, is being challenged by Cynthia Ebner, a Columbus lawyer.
• Sean McCarthy, who was appointed by the governor to an unexpired term on the bench in July, is facing Cindi Morehart, a magistrate in the Domestic Relations and Juvenile Court, in a bid to complete the term.
• Three candidates are vying for a seat being vacated by the retirement of Judge Anne Taylor: Tony Paat, a Municipal Court magistrate; Eileen Paley, a Columbus City Council member; and Eddie Pfau, a Columbus lawyer.
All said they welcomed the creation of the website as one more tool to draw attention to their campaigns and the Municipal Court.
“There’s not a lot of awareness of what the court does,” Paat said.
Municipal Court judges handle traffic cases and nontraffic misdemeanors, as well as civil cases involving disputes concerning less than $15,000. They serve six-year terms and are paid $119,850 annually.
“Sooner or later, we touch almost everyone’s life, whether you’re called to jury duty or get a speeding ticket or have a small-claims case,” Paat said.
Ebner said many voters are confused about the nonpartisan nature of the judicial races in general elections in Ohio. Although the political parties endorse candidates, and partisan primary elections are held, no party affiliations will be on the November ballot.
“People need to understand that if I’m a judge and they come into my courtroom, I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, and they shouldn’t care if I’m a Republican or a Democrat,” Ebner said. “They need to know that I’m impartial and will listen to both sides.”
Impartiality is so important that judicial candidates are prohibited from expressing certain opinions or promising how they’ll rule on certain issues, further limiting what voters know about them.
“We can’t put out policy positions; it’s against the rules,” McCarthy said. “If a judge is doing his or her job well, they may not attract any attention. But I can’t think of another job in government that has more of an impact on people’s everyday lives.”
Glaeden said many of the questions she hears when she gives speeches or makes other public appearances reveal a lack of understanding about the duties of a judge.
“People want to know where you stand on gun control or where you stand on abortion,” she said. “ Those are policy questions, things to ask legislators. The only thing a judge can promise is to be fair and impartial, have good judicial temperament and follow the law.”
Paley, a city councilwoman since 2009, might have as much name recognition as anyone on the judicial ballot, but she said she doesn’t think that’s enough.
“Being on city council has allowed me to be in the community a lot,” she said. On the campaign trail, “I’m hitting between five and eight events a day. It’s not just getting your name out there. I hate the name game. It’s more about getting information out there.”
Morehart said voters have little excuse not to become knowledgeable about the candidates, given the advent of Facebook and other social-media sources.
“Most candidates have Web pages,” she said. “We’re all on social media. There is easy access to find out about us.”
Pfau, a Green Party candidate who doesn’t plan to raise any money, said he might benefit more than any of the candidates from the Judicial Votes Count website. The site was developed by the Supreme Court with the State Bar Association and the League of Women Voters of Ohio.
“I think the website is great,” he said. “I’m excited. It gives a third-party candidate a chance.”