Minor political parties have since 2006 occupied a kind of no man’s land in Ohio. In that year, federal courts found state law on minor parties unconstitutional, in large part because minor parties faced the significant burden of having to file 120 days before the primary. Since then, secretaries of state have issued directives ensuring minor party candidates access to the ballot.
A fast-moving bill at the Statehouse would bring clarity and almost remedy the situation — its effective date a major problem.
The House narrowly approved legislation this week, making helpful changes (and a welcome omission) in the version that earlier cleared the Senate. That sets up a conference committee to iron things out. Meanwhile, the Libertarian Party has threatened to sue, arguing that changing things so close to the 2014 elections would harm the prospects of Charlie Earl, its candidate for governor.
The Libertarians have a point. The House did lower from 28,000 to 10,000 the number of signatures required for minor parties to gain ballot access next year. That’s a reasonable one-half of 1 percent of the turnout in the most recent election for governor or president. The House rewrite accidentally dropped an unnecessarily high barrier, that the signatures come from at least eight of the state’s 16 U.S. House districts.
To keep their status, smaller parties would need 2 percent of the vote in the following election for governor or president, down from 3 percent in the Senate version.
The signatures needed for a minor party to qualify for the ballot would be due 125 days before the general election. That sounds fair, but Libertarians argue persuasively that based on their past efforts it would take them 18 months to circulate petitions across the state. In other words, there is a good chance Charlie Earl and other minor-party candidates would not make the ballot next year.
By rushing, the Republican-dominated legislature invites more criticism that its real goal is to torpedo Earl, who could take votes away from John Kasich when the governor seeks re-election next year. Critics have called the legislation the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act.”
While it would be wrong to leave minor parties in legal limbo indefinitely, there is no reason that the new requirements could not be implemented after next year’s elections, giving the smaller parties, with much smaller organizations and fewer resources, ample time to adjust.