For many students, this is the first presidential election that they will be able to vote in—and by golly, this is a monumental one. As such, most students have a pretty good handle on which presidential candidate they want to vote for. However, all of the other elections on their ballots may be a bit less clear to them. It’s difficult to find information about some of these candidates, especially for the more niche judicial offices. Several members of The Observer’s staff worked together to compile a comprehensive voting guide for students. We start by explaining the differences between in-person and absentee voting and what you need for both. Then, we continue with a brief explanation about why Ohioans vote for their judges, something students from other states may find odd, before jumping into the heart of this guide—the information we’ve compiled about the elections that will be on your ballot. The final section of this resource explains all the hullabaloo about President Donald Trump potentially refusing to accept the results of the election. We hope you find this guide useful.
Election Day is Nov. 3, 2020. Everyone that plans on voting knows that, since they had to register to vote at least 30 days before. If you didn’t register, unfortunately, it’s too late for you to vote in Ohio. That being said, please register so you can vote in the next election cycle. For those of you that have registered to vote from an address on or near campus, though, you can visit either the Center for Civic Engagement and Learning or the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections’ websites to find out where you’ll be voting. CCEL is sponsoring shuttles to the voting stations, which open at 6:30 a.m. and closes at 7:30 p.m. However, as long as you are in line by 7:30 p.m., Ohio law dictates that you will be allowed to cast your ballot, regardless of how long it takes for the line to clear.
There is one physical item you should have as you head to the polls—an ID. There are four different types of ID’s that Ohio has deemed legitimate: an unexpired Ohio driver’s license or state ID card, a military ID, an unexpired photo ID issued by either Ohio or the U.S. government that contains your name and current address, or an original or copy of a utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or another document with your name and present address from the past six months.
Every state in the U.S. allows its citizens to vote absentee if they are unable to show up to their polling place on Election Day. It is fairly straightforward and it’s an electoral mechanism that many of us are familiar with at this point. You apply for a ballot, it’s sent to you in the mail and you either drop it off or mail it in.
In Ohio, mail-in ballots are actually counted prior to Election Day. For officials, this is advantageous, as it prevents even more backlog than is already present on election night. They are usually the first ballots counted, according to the Ohio government, but this also means the count of these ballots likely will not appear before election night. Even still, as long as your ballot is postmarked prior to Nov. 2 and makes it to officials before Nov. 13, it will be counted.
Flexibility and convenience used to be the name of the game with this form of voting, but safety is definitely on most citizens’ minds this year. Polling places may feel like a COVID-19 buffet this year, especially since people with varying opinions on the danger of the disease are present. So if you are looking to avoid potential exposure hotspots, be sure to locate your nearest drop box or go to a post office and have your mail-in ballot stamped with the date. By the time of publication (Oct. 30), you will have one more day to request a ballot.
It should be emphasized that cutting it close is a poor strategy this year. With inflated numbers of absentee voting and a new fervor over the legitimacy of absentee ballots, it is crucial to reduce the questionability of your vote. This includes checking the information you fill out two or three times, as rejected ballots are expected to be particularly prevalent this cycle.
Voting for Judges
When first-time voters start researching the candidates up for election in Ohio, they are commonly surprised to see that judicial races are on the ballot. A little under half of all states, 21 to be exact, have judicial elections. The reason for this bifurcation is conflicting imperatives: judicial accountability and judicial independence. Voting for judges increases judicial accountability but decreases judicial independence. Sometime in the past, Ohio decided to prioritize accountability. In Ohio, judicial elections start with a partisan primary and then continue with a nonpartisan general election, which is why none of the candidates have party affiliations listed after name on the ballot.
To prepare you all best for the election, we have compiled information on all the contested elections––excluding the presidential one––that students registered on or near campus will be able to vote on. In this data set, we included party affiliations, key endorsements and as much information as we could gather about candidates’ pasts. Also included is information about the proposed tax levy, the last thing that will be on your ballots. We hope this information is beneficial to you.
Representative to Congress (11th District)
Marcia Fudge (Democrat-incumbent): Fudge has served as the Ohio Representative since 2008, most recently winning reelection in 2018 with 82% of the vote. In Congress, she chairs the House Agriculture subcommittee, responsible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). She is also on the House Education on Labor Committee, drafting proposals for increased funding to public schools and colleges.
Laverne Gore (Republican): Gore has experience as a businesswoman and has previously run for other political offices, including Cleveland mayor and Cleveland City Council. She has received endorsements from Ohio Right to Life, Ohio Diversity Coalition, Ohio Republican Party and the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County.
Member of the State Board of Education (11th District)
Meryl Johnson (nonpartisan-incumbent): Johnson previously served on the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations’ (AFL-CIO) executive board and worked in the Upward Bound program at Case Western Reserve University, which encourages early exposure to STEM opportunities. She was elected to the State Board of Education in 2016.
Michele Elba (nonpartisan): Elba has a master’s degree in social work. She previously served on the Warrensville School Board for eight years and the North East Regional Executive Committee school board. She has commented that teachers should be allowed to carry guns in school and that taxpayer-public education should be funded through college.
Richard Neale (nonpartisan): There is little information about Neale. He has received endorsements from the Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio and Republican Party of Cuyahoga County.
Ohio Supreme Court
Sharon Kennedy (Republican-incumbent): Kennedy was elected to the Butler County Domestic Relations Court in 1999 and was elected to the Ohio Supreme Court in 2012. She has received endorsements from the Buckeye Firearms Association and the Cincinnati Right to Life organization. She considers herself an originalist, meaning that she believes the interpretation of the law should not change over time. The Ohio State Bar Association recommended her with a score of 23/30 for legal ability and knowledge.
John O’Donnell (Democrat): O’Donnell has 18 years of experience as a common pleas judge. In 2015, he faced considerable backlash for his acquittal of police officer Michael Brelo, who was charged with killing two unarmed Black men. He has received endorsements from the Ohio Democratic County Chairs Association and the Human Rights Campaign. He is considered a judicial activist. Judicial activism is a philosophy that argues that judges should use their role to bring about beneficial public change, even if doing so goes against legal precedent or legislative rulings. The State Bar Association recommended him with a score of 24/30 for legal ability and knowledge.
Ohio Supreme Court
Judith French (Republican-incumbent): French previously worked as a judge on the 10th District Court of Appeals and then became a justice in 2013. She has received endorsements from the Cincinnati Right to Life Political Action Committee and the Buckeye Firearms Association. The State Bar Association recommended her with a score of 27/30 for legal ability and knowledge.
Jennifer Brunner (Democrat): Brunner was previously the first female Ohio secretary of state and a common pleas judge. She received endorsements from the Human Rights Campaign and the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party. The State Bar Association recommended her with a score of 20/30 for legal ability and knowledge.
Judge of the Court of Appeals (8th District)
Raymond Headen (Republican-incumbent): Headen previously served as general counsel to the Ohio treasurer of state and was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2018. He has received endorsements from the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County.
Lisa Forbes (Democrat): Forbes previously worked as a business litigator for 27 years. She received nearly all “excellent” scores from lawyer and judge associations for legal ability and knowledge.
Judge of Court of Appeals (8th District)
Emanuella Groves (Democrat): Groves previously worked as a Cleveland Municipal Court Judge for 18 years. She considers herself an activist judge and advocates for transparency. Groves was endorsed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer and received all “excellent” scores from lawyer and judge associations for legal ability and knowledge.
Pamela Hawkins (Republican): Hawkins has 16 years of attorney experience, specifically in estate planning and pro bono guardianship. She received either “satisfactory” or “not recommended” scores from lawyer and judge associations for legal ability and knowledge.
Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (General Division)
Kenneth Callahan (Republican): Callahan was previously a judge for Common Pleas from 1993-2009 and then continued his career as a private lawyer. Callahan received nearly all “excellent” scores from lawyer and judge associations for legal ability and knowledge. He was also endorsed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
William Vodrey (Democrat): Vodrey worked as a Legal Aid lawyer, an assistant prosecutor in Cuyahoga County and was later appointed as a Cleveland Municipal Court magistrate in 2001. He received “good” or “excellent” scores from lawyer and judge associations for legal ability and knowledge.
Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (General Division)
Robert McClelland (Republican-incumbent): McClelland has been on the Court of Common Pleas since 2011. He received all “excellent” scores from lawyer and judge associations for legal ability and knowledge. McClelland also was endorsed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Andrew Santoli (Democrat): Santoli previously worked as a prosecuting attorney from 2007-2019 in Cuyahoga County. He received mostly “good” ratings from lawyer and judge associations for legal ability and knowledge.
Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (General Division)
Wanda Jones (Republican-incumbent): Jones served as a volunteer magistrate for the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Diversion Program, as well as a guardian ad litem for the Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court. She also acted as a partner of a family practice law firm. She received either “good” or “excellent” scores from lawyer and judge associations for legal ability and knowledge and was endorsed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Richard Bell (Democrat): Bell works in the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office as the chief of the Special Investigations Division, focusing on investigating sexual assault kits. He received either “good” or “excellent” scores from lawyer and judge associations for legal ability and knowledge.
Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (Domestic Relations Division)
James Cochran (Republican): Cochran was the assistant prosecutor in Cuyahoga County for 12 years and then worked as a lawyer for the Ohio Department of Transportation. He has received an endorsement from the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County. He has not received recommendations from any of the major lawyer or judge associations for legal ability and knowledge.
Colleen Ann Reali (Democrat): Reali worked as an assistant prosecuting attorney in both Common Pleas Court and Court of Appeals. She then served as the Domestic Relations Court magistrate for the past five years. Reali has received endorsements from the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Democrats of Cuyahoga County. She received excellent reviews from lawyer and judge associations for legal ability and knowledge.
Proposed Tax Levy (Issue 68)
Issue 68 was promoted by a campaign entitled “Keep CLE Kids Moving Forward,” and supported by Mayor Frank Jackson and Congresswoman Fudge. A vote yes for this issue will support an increase in property tax for 10 years in order to increase funding to Cleveland public schools. Projections suggest the levy could result in $98 million more per year.
Contested Election Scenario
President Trump has repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if former Vice President Joe Biden proves victorious in the coming election. This has caused many to worry that Trump and his campaign will contest the election long after the results are in, which would cause various legal and political issues. If this happens, the most likely scenario is that a flurry of lawsuits will crop up.
Trump has been laying the groundwork for these lawsuits in the months leading up to the election by making claims about electoral fraud caused by mail-in ballots. Here’s the thing, though: He has no legitimately legal or factual leg to stand on with these claims. If you are worried about the legitimacy of the absentee ballot system, read the statistics on voter fraud and the reports published by the FBI directly contradicting Trump’s ridiculous assertions. However, regardless of Trump’s claims of lack of legitimacy, his team could very well still file suit.
Lawsuits alleging that fraudulent absentee ballots caused Biden to win would likely start in battleground states like Florida, Pennsylvania and perhaps Ohio. Due to the momentous nature of these claims, the suits wouldn’t stay in these states for long. Instead, they would work their way up to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court of the United States, which would then make the final decision about the suit’s legitimacy. Senate Republicans’ recent confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett creates a strong conservative majority, six to three, on the Supreme Court bench.