Stories about Ohio

U.S. Senate confirms Newman to federal district court judgeship

The U.S. Senate confirmed Michael Newman to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio by a 67-30 vote on October 22, 2020. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio is one of 94 U.S. District Courts. They are the general trial courts of the United States federal courts.

After Newman receives his federal judicial commission and takes his judicial oath, the eight-member court will have five Republican-appointed judges and three Democrat-appointed judges. Newman will join three other judges appointed by President Trump.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed 219 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—two Supreme Court justices, 53 appellate court judges, 162 district court judges, and two U.S. Court of International Trade judges—since January 2017.

Newman was a federal magistrate judge for the Southern District of Ohio from 2011 to 2020. Before that, he worked in private practice and as a law clerk to the Southern District of Ohio’s Magistrate Judge Jack Sherman and to U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit Judge Nathaniel Jones. Newman earned his bachelor of fine arts degree from New York University in 1982, and his J.D., cum laude, from American University’s Washington College of Law in 1989.

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Four temporary city council members selected in Toledo, Ohio 

On Sept. 18, Lucas County Probate Judge Jack Puffenberger selected John Hobbs III, Vanice Williams, Tiffany Preston Whitman, and Cerssandra McPherson to fill vacancies on the Toledo City Council. Each will hold their position in a temporary capacity while legal proceedings continue for four previous council members.

On July 21, council members Tyrone Riley, Yvonne Harper, Larry Sykes, and Gary Johnson were suspended from office after being charged with bribery, extortion, and conspiracy. According to an FBI investigation, the four members are alleged to have accepted $34,000 in bribes in return for votes on zoning requests. All four voluntarily stepped down from their council positions in July.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) stated: “Until allegations of public corruption are resolved in court, a suspension is the proper remedy to balance the accused’s right of a presumption of innocence with the public’s interest to have a functioning city council.”

Hobbs, Williams, Whitman, and McPherson assumed office on Sept. 22. Though the position is non-partisan, the Toledo Blade identified all four as Democrats. Each council member will hold their position in a temporary capacity until their predecessor’s term ends or until the suspended council member resigns or is found innocent.

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Former Ohio secretary of state challenges Justice Judith French for a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court 

Incumbent Judith French and Jennifer L. Brunner are running in the general election for Ohio Supreme Court on November 3, 2020.

Justice French was appointed to the Ohio Supreme Court by Gov. John Kasich (R). She assumed office on January 1, 2013. She advanced from the Republican primary for Ohio Supreme Court on April 28, 2020. Her previous political experience includes serving as chief legal council for Gov. Bob Taft (R) from 2002 through 2004 and as assistant attorney general to Betty Montgomery (R) from 1997 through 2002.

Brunner advanced from the Democratic primary for Ohio Supreme Court on April 28, 2020. She served as Ohio secretary of state from 2007 until 2011 and was elected to the 10th District Court of Appeals in 2014.

Two justices of the Ohio Supreme Court face re-election this year. In addition to Justice French, Justice Sharon L. Kennedy will stand for re-election. Justice Kennedy advanced from the Republican primary for Ohio Supreme Court on April 28, 2020.

Two justices currently on the Ohio Supreme Court have advanced from Democratic primaries to win the general election, and five justices on the Ohio Supreme Court have advanced from Republican primaries to win the general election. If both incumbents are defeated in the November general election, the court will have a majority of justices who have advanced from Democratic primaries.

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Householder removed as speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives

Amid an ongoing federal investigation, the Ohio House of Representatives voted unanimously on July 30 to remove Rep. Larry Householder (R) from his leadership position as house speaker. State representatives introduced the motion for removal shortly after a federal grand jury indicted Householder on racketeering charges.

The House voted 55-38 that same day to select Bob Cupp (R) as the new speaker. House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes issued a statement that indicated no members of the Democratic Caucus voted for Cupp. In his address to the chamber, Cupp said, “It is a great privilege to lead this chamber. Sorry it is in such difficult and trying and unprecedented times as this, however, but I pledge to do so honorably and fairly and humbly.”

Both Householder and Cupp are running for re-election this year. Householder advanced unopposed from the April 28 Republican primary in District 72 and is running unopposed in the general election on November 3. Cupp ran unopposed in the District 4 Republican primary and faces Libertarian candidate Christina Marie Holloway in the general election.

Householder, along with four others, was arrested on July 21 and charged with conspiracy to participate in a racketeering scheme. Householder was accused of collecting more than $60 million in exchange for legislation that would bail out two nuclear plants.

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Three Toledo City Council members suspended pending federal investigation

On July 22, three of the four Toledo City Council members currently under investigation on federal charges of bribery, extortion, and conspiracy voluntarily suspended their positions. Yvonne Harper, Tyrone Riley, and Larry Sykes agreed to the suspension after Attorney General of Ohio Dave Yost (R) filed a request for suspension proceedings. They did not resign from their positions; temporary replacements that have yet to be appointed will fulfill the duties of their offices during the investigation. The fourth councilmember under investigation, Gary Johnson, continued to serve in his capacity as a councilmember as of July 23.
Harper, Johnson, Riley, and Sykes were arrested on June 30 on charges of bribery and extortion. The charges resulted from a two-year investigation begun by the FBI in 2016, and alleged that the four officials accepted $34,000 in bribes among them. On July 21, a grand jury indicted the councilmembers, along with attorney Keith Mitchell, on additional charges of extortion and conspiracy.
Probate judge Jack R. Puffenberger will appoint replacements for Harper, Riley, and Sykes to serve on the city council in a temporary capacity for the duration of the investigation.
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Cutrona appointed to Ohio House of Representatives

A Republican committee in the Ohio House of Representatives appointed Alessandro “Al” Cutrona (R) to the District 59 seat on May 28. The seat became vacant when late state Rep. Don Manning (R) died unexpectedly in March. Cutrona was sworn in on May 28.

Cutrona is an attorney and works as the chief operating officer and in-house counsel at an infectious disease medical practice in Youngstown, Ohio. He will serve the remainder of Manning’s unexpired term, which ends on December 31, 2020.

Cutrona fills the only vacancy that has occurred in the Ohio legislature this year. With his appointment, the partisan composition of the Ohio House of Representatives is 61 Republicans and 38 Democrats. Ohio has a Republican state government trifecta, which exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

The Republican Party has held a majority in the Ohio State Senate continuously since 1992 and a majority in the Ohio House of Representatives from 1994 until 2008 and again from 2010 to the present.

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Federal judge requires Ohio to accept electronic signatures from initiative campaigns seeking to place minimum wage and voting changes on the ballot

On May 19, U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus ordered Ohio to accept electronic signatures from the campaigns sponsoring the Minimum Wage Increase Initiative and the Voting Requirements Initiative. The judge also extended the signature deadline from July 1 to July 31. The judge’s order only applies to the ballot measure campaigns that sued the state, including several local marijuana decriminalization initiative campaigns.

On March 30, 2020, Ohioans for Raise the Wage and Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections filed a lawsuit in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas asking for the July 1 signature deadline to be extended, the number of signatures required to be reduced, and permission to gather signatures online. On April 28, Judge David C. Young dismissed the case arguing that since the petition requirements for initiatives are in the Ohio Constitution “the ability to change those requirements is reserved only to the people.” He added that there is no exception for public health emergencies. Following the case dismal, the campaigns brought their case to the federal court.

U.S. District Judge Sargus argued in his opinion that “these unique historical circumstances of a global pandemic and the impact of Ohio’s Stay-at-Home Orders, the State’s strict enforcement of the signature requirements for local initiatives and constitutional amendments severely burden Plaintiff’s First Amendment rights.” The ruling did not change the number of signatures required or the state’s distribution requirement.

Ohio filed an appeal of the ruling on May 20. If the decision is not reversed, Ohioans for Raise the Wage and Ohioans for Secure and Fair Elections have until July 31 to collect 443,958 valid signatures.

The Minimum Wage Initiative would incrementally increase the state’s minimum wage to $13 per hour by January 1, 2025. After 2025, the minimum wage would be tied to inflation. The first increase would be on January 1, 2021, to $9.60 per hour.

The Voting Requirements Initiative would remove the requirement that voters must be registered 30 days prior to an election; require absentee ballots requested by military personnel or voters outside of the U.S. be sent 46 days before the election; automatically register citizens at motor vehicle departments unless the citizen refuses registration via a written statement; allow voter registration at polling locations; and require 28 days of early voting.

Ballotpedia has identified 11 lawsuits in nine states seeking changes or suspensions of ballot measure requirements. The topics of the lawsuits include:
• the number of signatures required,
• notary requirements for remote signatures,
• the ability to collect signatures electronically, and
• the extension of signature deadlines.

Before March 2020, no states allowed the use of electronic signatures for statewide initiative and referendum petitions. While some states allowed remote signatures through petition sheets printed, signed, and mailed, no states allowed remote signature gathering through email before the coronavirus pandemic.

On April 29, 2020, Massachusetts became the first state to allow campaigns to collect electronic signatures for statewide citizen-initiatives for the 2020 cycle after four campaigns filed a lawsuit and the secretary of the commonwealth agreed to a settlement.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) signed an executive order on May 17 that authorized the Colorado Secretary of State to establish temporary rules allowing for remote petition signature gathering to be signed through mail and email. The rules were expected to be finalized by the Secretary of State in early June. Prior to the order, petition circulators were required to witness each act of signing in person. The order also removed individual initiative signature deadlines of six months after ballot language finalization and instead required that signatures for all initiatives are due by August 3, 2020.

The Washington, D.C., Council passed a bill on May 5 that allowed remote signature gathering for initiative campaigns through email.

On May 13, 2020, the Arizona Supreme Court rejected a request made by four ballot initiative campaigns to allow them to gather signatures through E-Qual, which is the state’s online signature collection platform, during the coronavirus pandemic.

On April 30, Missoula District Judge John Larson rejected a request by Montana ballot initiative petitioners to allow them to use electronic signatures. Judge Larson ruled that the State’s “compelling interest in maintaining the integrity and security of its election process outweighs any burden on [the] Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.”

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Federal judge issues order regarding inmate releases at federal prison in Ohio

On May 19, U.S. District Court Judge James Gwin for the Northern District of Ohio ordered the Bureau of Prisons to expedite the release of 837 medically vulnerable inmates in Ohio’s Elkton Federal Correctional Institute through home confinement or compassionate release due to the coronavirus pandemic. In his order, the judge cited “poor progress in transferring the subclass members out of Elkton through the various means referenced in the Court’s preliminary injunction Order.” The ruling follows a class action habeas petition filed by the ACLU of Ohio and the Ohio Justice and Policy Center.

Ballotpedia is tracking how states are releasing inmates in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

So far:
• Twenty-one states have released inmates at the state level.
• Twelve states have released inmates on the local level.
• Eleven states have not released inmates due to coronavirus.
• Two states have prohibited the release of certain inmate populations.
• Four states have temporarily released certain populations of inmates.

One incumbent defeated in Ohio’s 2020 state legislative primaries

Forty contested primaries took place for the Ohio state legislature on April 28, 2020. There were nine primaries in the state Senate and 31 primaries in the state House. By partisan affiliation, 17 were Democratic primaries and 23 were Republican primaries.

This was a 35.5 percent decrease in the number of primaries from 2018 (62) and the fewest contested primaries in the state since 2012 (35).

Rep. Jeffrey Todd Smith (R), House District 43, was the only incumbent defeated in a primary in Ohio this year. He filed to run for re-election in December 2019, but announced in January 2020 that he would withdraw from the race, though his name remained on the primary ballot. One incumbent lost in a primary election in both the 2018 and 2016 elections.

There was a 22 percent drop in the number of major party candidates from 2018, one of the largest decreases in states whose filing deadlines have passed. In total, 265 candidates—123 Democrats and 142 Republicans—ran this year compared to 341 in 2018. Only Tennessee (-25%) and Oklahoma (-42%) have seen larger percentage decreases in major party candidates.

The number of races without incumbents in each chamber was about average compared to the past decade—five Senate races (31%) and 19 House races (19%) did not feature an incumbent, meaning the races were for open seats. These numbers are down from the decade-high numbers in 2018 when 10 Senate seats (59%) and 32 House seats (32%) were open.

Of the 16 seats up in the Senate, 11 will have an incumbent running in the general election. In the House, of the 99 seats up for election, 78 are set to feature an incumbent.

Heading into the general election, Republicans hold a 24-9 supermajority in the Senate and a 60-38 supermajority in the House. In 2018, Mike DeWine (R) was elected governor, making Ohio one of 21 Republican state government trifectas. General election winners will be responsible for redrawing district lines after the 2020 decennial census. In Ohio, the General Assembly is responsible for redistricting congressional district lines. State legislative district lines will be set by a bipartisan, seven-member state legislative redistricting commission after voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2015, 71-29%.

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1 of 109 state-level incumbents defeated in Ohio’s primaries

Ohio held a statewide primary on April 28, 2020. Originally scheduled for March 17, the election was postponed amid concerns of the coronavirus pandemic. The general election is November 3, 2020.

The primary was held largely by mail. As of 1 p.m. EDT on May 1, the Secretary of State’s office reported that there were 244,061 outstanding absentee and provisional ballots statewide. The following information is based on the unofficial results reported at that time.

A total of 16 out of 33 seats on the Ohio State Senate are up for election in 2020. Five incumbents, all Republicans, were not on the ballot. Of the 11 officeholders to file for re-election, two are Democrats and nine are Republicans. District 14 Sen. Terry Johnson (R) was the only incumbent to face a primary challenger. No incumbents were defeated.

All 99 Ohio House of Representatives districts are up for election in 2020. Nineteen incumbents—five Democrats and 14 Republicans—were not on the ballot. Of the 80 incumbents to file for re-election, 33 are Democrats and 47 are Republicans. Thirteen incumbents faced primary challengers. District 43 Rep. Jeffrey Todd Smith (R) was the only incumbent to be defeated.

Two Ohio Supreme Court justices have terms expiring in 2020. In Ohio, judicial candidates stand for partisan primaries and nonpartisan general elections. Justices Judith French (R) and Sharon L. Kennedy (R) both filed for another term, facing no primary challengers. They both face Democratic challengers in the general election.

Twenty-one Ohio Court of Appeals justices have terms expiring in 2021. Sixteen justices filed for another term, eight Democrats and eight Republicans. Justice Matt Lynch (R) is challenging Justice Timothy Cannon (D) for Cannon’s seat; Lynch’s term does not expire until 2025. Six seats are open. All 16 incumbents advanced to the nonpartisan general election.

Ballotpedia also covered elections for the following municipalities:
  • Cuyahoga County
  • Fairfield County
  • Franklin County
  • Hamilton County
  • Lucas County