Ohio Libertarians Sure Feel Like They’re Being Shoved Off the Ballot

The Ohio state Senate last week passed a bill that has many Libertarian and Green Party members upset.

The bill, sponsored by Cincinnati Republican Sen. Bill Seitz, would require minor parties to gather petition signatures from at least 1 percent of the total votes cast in the most recent election for governor or president.

Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson makes a point during a debate hosted by the Free and Equal Elections Foundation on Oct. 23, 2012. (Getty Images)

That’s more than 56,000 signatures using last year’s election numbers. To remain a qualified political party, groups must get 3 percent of the total votes cast in the following gubernatorial or presidential election.

No third-party candidate in the most recent elections has reached those numbers.

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, for example, garnered only 0.9 percent, or 49,493 votes, in the 2012 presidential election. In the 2010 gubernatorial race, Libertarian candidate Ken Matesz got 2.4 percent of the vote, while Green Party candidate Dennis Spisak won 1.5 percent.

And considering the fact that Libertarian and Green Party candidates rarely come close to scoring the kind of numbers the bill would require, the new proposal may very well bar third party candidates from participating in future elections.

“What I believe they’ve done is taken four or five pockets of resistance and combined us into one bag of fury,” said Charlie Earl, a Libertarian candidate for governor. “And we’re coming after them. We’re not going to stop.”

The proposal cleared the Republican-controlled state Senate last Tuesday by a 22-11 vote, with one GOP senator joining Democrats in opposition.

Gary Daniels, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, told a state Senate committee last week that the proposed petition requirements are onerous for third parties and that the changes come too close to the 2014 election, especially for candidates who are collecting signatures for office.

“While there may not be a perfect time to implement these types of changes, it appears many of the proposed changes in Ohio law would ultimately harm those they are intended to help, at least for the 2014 election cycle,” Daniels said.

But Seitz said the standards are long overdue, since the state’s law was deemed unconstitutional by a federal appeals court in 2006. He said election officials have continued to recognize the third parties in existence at the time of the ruling because there is no law to enforce.

“Obviously, if you are in one of those minor parties, you probably would like that current, lawless state of affairs to continue because you get to stay on the ballot without demonstrating any modicum of support,” Seitz said.

He said during Senate debate last week that things are currently like the “wild, wild west” in Ohio.

“Obviously, if you are in one of those minor parties, you probably would like that current lawless state of affairs to continue, because you get to stay on the ballot without demonstrating any modicum of public support,” Seitz said. “I don’t think that’s appropriate public policy, and that’s why we drafted Senate Bill 193.”

The proposal comes as Ohio Republicans face growing competition from Tea Party supporters who say they may support a third-party challenger to Republican Gov. John Kasich next year.

The Libertarian Party of Ohio, for its part, is furious. From the group’s website:

The bottom line is that the John Kasich Re-election Protection Act would disenfranchise every Ohio voter by taking away their right to vote for a candidate for governor other than a) John Kasich, a governor who has miserably failed the state of Ohio and betrayed millions of fiscal conservatives who expected him to follow Ohio law and oppose Obamacare, or b) the nominee of the other big-government party who is promising to double down on most of Kasich’s failing policies.

SB 193 would also invalidate and halt campaigns for all candidates EXCEPT Republicnas [sic] and Democrats, including the dozens of Libertarian campaigns already underway for 2014, for Congress, the Ohio Statehouse, and our LPO Central committee, the board that governs our party based on the choices of voters at the ballot box (just like Republicans and Democrats pick their central committees).

The bill now goes to the House.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter

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