On September 9, the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously expanded the ability of independent candidates to run for judicial office, including not only judgeship elections, but elections for Clerk of a Court. The decision is State ex rel Coughlin v Summit County Board of Elections, 2013-3867. Ohio and Michigan have peculiar elections for judicial office. Candidates are either nominated in partisan primaries or in party conventions, or they can petition directly onto the general election ballot if they do not wish to be entangled with political parties. But, oddly, no party names ever appear on the ballot for these elections. Ambiguity in the English language makes it unclear whether to refer to such elections as “partisan” or “non-partisan.”
Kevin J. Coughlin petitioned to be on the November 5, 2013 ballot as an independent candidate for Clerk of the Municipal Court in Stow, a city in Summit County. County election officials kept him off the ballot on the grounds that he was associated with the Republican Party. Ohio voter registration forms do not ask voters to choose a party. But Ohio is very fussy about keeping independent candidates off the ballot if they have associated with a qualified political party, so if challengers can show that an independent candidate has associated closely with a party, he or she is generally removed from the ballot. However, the Ohio Supreme Court said that judicial elections are not covered by this restriction.