Covered by Documenter Barbara Phipps (notes)
Cuyahoga County Board of Elections members voted to deny protests filed over the eligibility of eight candidates for Cleveland Municipal Court judge and clerk on the Nov. 7 ballot. The board relied on opinions from Cleveland Law Director Mark Griffin and Board of Elections legal advisor Mark Musson that eligibility requirements in the Cleveland City Charter only apply to mayoral and City Council candidates.
Residents Jeffrey Mixon and Mariah Crenshaw filed individual protest requests. In total, they sought protest hearings against six judicial candidates:
- Jeffrey Johnson
- Judge Shiela Turner McCall
- Sydney Strickland Saffold
- Joseph Russo
- Heather McCollough
- Jocelyn Conwell
Johnson, a former Cleveland City Council member, also challenged the eligibility of incumbent Judge Mark Majer.
Crenshaw challenged the eligibility of two candidates running for Cleveland Clerk of Courts: Martin Sweeney and incumbent Earle Turner. Sweeney, a Cuyahoga County Council member, later withdrew his candidacy, telling Cleveland.com the decision was not due to the challenge.
A question of conflicting laws
Challengers alleged that candidates either did not have enough nominating signatures or did not meet the city charter’s residency requirements. The city charter says candidates must be eligible Cleveland voters — which requires Cleveland residency — for at least 12 consecutive months ahead of the next regular city election. It also says that candidates seeking “at large” offices (that is, citywide representation versus representing one city ward) need at least 3,000 signatures.
But the Cleveland Municipal Court also covers the Village of Bratenahl, Musson said. And it gets its power from the state. Ohio law says candidates for Cleveland judge positions need only 50 signatures. It also says municipal judges need only be residents of the court’s territory during their term.
Johnson said he was troubled by the idea that the city charter’s 12-month requirement — added by voters in 2019 — applies only to the offices of mayor and Cleveland City Council. The charter language is worth conversation, but it’s not for the board to address, said Board Member Inajo Davis Chappell.
The Board of Elections certified the county results in the Aug. 8 special election. About 77% of county voters voted against Issue 1, which would have stiffened requirements for residents and advocacy groups wanting to amend Ohio’s constitution and would have raised the threshold for approval of an amendment to 60%. Ohio voters rejected the measure.
Ohio ID law impact
Chappell wondered if changes to Ohio’s voting laws that took effect this year impacted the number of rejected provisional ballots. Voters can use provisional ballots to vote when their eligibility is in question. Board Director Anthony Perlatti said the number of ballots rejected because of missing identification went up. Of 786 rejected provisional ballots, the board rejected 137 for that reason. That is up from 24 in the November 2022 election.
Slight wage increases
The board looked ahead to upcoming budget discussions for 2024 and 2025. In addition to earmarking money for a new operations center, the board is considering minor wage increases for temporary employees. Currently set at $15/hour, the board may look to approve increases of .25 cents an hour in each budget year, Perlatti said.
While Cleveland Municipal Court judges were the focus of this meeting, Cleveland Documenters teamed up with The Marshall Project to learn about Cuyahoga County judges — the ones who rule on felony cases. Check out Testify for more.