Ohio adding party affiliation to ballots in races for state supreme court

September 24, 2021

In future elections for state Supreme Court in Ohio, the partisan affiliation of judicial candidates will appear on the ballot. Lawmakers made the change this summer with the passage of SB 80, a move that proponents say will help voters make more-informed choices. Opponents argue the addition of party affiliation will further politicize the judiciary.

Ohio Supreme Court candidates already were being chosen in partisan primary nominations, according to The Council of State Governments’ “The Book of the States.” A second provision in SB 80 requires a higher placement on the ballot for candidates for supreme court — between the candidates for statewide elected office and those running for the U.S. Senate and House.

Ohio is one of six Midwestern states in which competitive elections are held for positions on the supreme court. These elections are nonpartisan in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin, and partisan in Michigan and Ohio. (Michigan’s process is similar to Ohio’s old system: Candidates are nominated by political parties, but elected on a nonpartisan ballot.) In Illinois, justices seek an initial 10-year term on the court through partisan elections; once on the bench, a Supreme Court judge is then subject to a once-a-decade retention election. Retention elections also are used in Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. In these five states, justices are initially appointed by the governor from a slate of names chosen by a judicial nominating commission — a process known as merit selection.