Small political parties in Ohio — Greens, Libertarians, Constitutionalists and Socialists — are concerned that Senate Bill 193, sponsored by Cincinnati-based Republican Sen. Bill Seitz, will effectively shut them out of state elections — all to supposedly protect Gov. John Kasich’s chances of re-election in 2014 from tea party challengers and others who are unhappy with the governor’s support for the Obamacare-funded Medicaid expansion.
Some, like Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Charlie Earl, claim the bill imposes too many restrictions on minor parties and will make it far too difficult to place third-party candidates on the state ballot.
Sen. John Eklund (R-Munson Township), who co-sponsored the bill, says S.B. 193 addresses a problem that arose six years ago when the Supreme Court of Ohio declared the old law that dealt with ballot qualifications unconstitutional.
“For all of that time, the state legislature has just sat on its hands and allowed whoever the secretary of state happens to be to deal with minor parties however they deem fit,” Eklund says. “That I found to be an unacceptable situation. The legislature has the responsibility to give the secretary of state, whoever it happens to be, clear and fair rules to follow.”
But Ohio Libertarians are crying foul. Libertarian secretary of state candidate Aaron Keith Harris of Fairborn recently called the bill the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act.” And Earl agrees, saying that Kasich has weakened his hold on the governor’s seat with the expansion of Medicaid in Ohio and by marginalizing the tea party wing of the Ohio GOP. Libertarian candidates, says Earl, could trim off enough votes from Kasich that he could lose to a Democratic challenger next November.
The bill recently passed in the Ohio Senate by a 23-10 vote. It’s being considered by the Ohio House of Representatives this week.
S.B. 193 would require minor candidates to collect 56,000 signatures in order to be on the ballot, but they would have to collect at least 4,000 in eight different congressional districts.
In essence, small parties would need a large presence in rural areas to represent the necessary number of congressional districts, since their presence in cities will only account for a handful of the eight needed. For most minor parties, the requirement could prove too difficult, which would keep them off the ballot in all but a few instances.
“We would have to guerrilla raid into other counties to collect the signatures,” Earl says. “I think the (Libertarian Party) could get it done if given enough time, but the Constitution and the Greens have no chance at all. It would be a burden for us, a real burden, but it would be an impossibility for them. I don’t think it’s right to ban them.”
The total 56,000 signatures represent 1 percent of the total votes cast in the previous election. The number of signatures needed would vary and be tied to the previous presidential or gubernatorial election. In order to stay on the ballot, a minor party would have to get 3 percent of the votes in the governor’s race.
Earl says a fixed number of signatures — 2,000 to 10,000 — would make more sense, even though it might not scale with future populations. And, he argues, tying the number of signatures to be on a state ballot to the number of votes cast in a presidential election is grossly unfair. The fact that the signatures have to be from registered Libertarians is another problem. He says a lot of Ohio Libertarians switched to a Republican affiliation in the last election in order to vote for Ron Paul. Voters should be able to sign a petition for any candidate, he says.
Seitz argues that the bill actually lowers the bars for minor parties that were found to be unfair by the Ohio Supreme Court.
“The former law required them to file their organization petitions 120 days before the primary election,” Seitz says. “That was what the Sixth Circuit Court found to be unconstitutional in 2006. We’re now giving them until 125 days before the general election. We’re giving them until July to get that 1-percent signature requirement. The 1-percent requirement is not new. That was part of the former law, but that was not even challenged.”
The former law required parties to earn 5 percent of the state vote to remain on the ballot, and S.B. 193 drops that to 3 percent. Seitz says the requirement that candidates obtain some of their signatures from half of Ohio’s congressional districts is fair, as a minor party must show broad support among all Ohioans to be on the ballot.
“We think we’re doing them a favor,” Seitz says. “Another thing I would point out, (Earl) is complaining that they will not have a primary in 2014 under this law because they won’t be organized by then.”
Seitz says that in the 2006 court case in which the old law was found unconstitutional, the Libertarians complained that they were required to have a primary in order to run.
“They said it was unconstitutional to require them to have a primary,” Seitz says. “Now they are claiming it’s somehow wrong to not let them have one this year. They’re going to have to decide what they want to do. But that points out what a bogus argument it is.”
He adds, “I think we’re doing them a great favor compared to the prior law, but it’s just not as good as the current situation under which they’ve been de facto recognized for lack of any law to enforce.”
Seitz says the bill was passed as emergency legislation to give the minor parties a fair amount of time to collect signatures, as called for in the bill.
But if the bill passes as it is written, Earl claims the Libertarians will file a lawsuit to try to stop it.
“This bill is no freaking emergency,” he says. “They’ve been fiddling around with this thing for seven years. Why is it suddenly an emergency? Well, it’s because John Kasich feels he is being challenged.” ©