COLUMBUS — Two Libertarian candidates for statewide office were tossed from Ohio’s primary ballot on Friday in a state election chief’s ruling that sparked immediate plans for a legal challenge.
Secretary of State Jon Husted issued a brief statement in disqualifying gubernatorial candidate Charlie Earl and attorney general candidate Steven Linnabary from the May 6 primary, saying he had adopted a hearing officer’s recommendations.
The candidates’ nominating petitions were challenged on two grounds: that signature gatherers failed to comply with Ohio laws requiring them to be either Libertarian or political independent and another requiring them to disclose their employer.
Mark Brown, an attorney for the Libertarian Party of Ohio, said the party will challenge the decision in federal court.
“The Secretary’s requirement that circulators disclose the source of their funding, whether they are employed or independent contractors, violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” he said in an email. “We will seek immediate relief enjoining implementation of this interpretation, which clearly represents a marked change in Ohio’s law and past practices.”
Brown had argued before hearing officer Bradley Smith, a fellow Capital University law professor, that the ballot protests were an extension of Republican efforts to keep third parties off the state’s ballot.
Earl could draw votes from Republican Gov. John Kasich in his re-election bid this fall. GOP state chairman Matthew Borges recently told reporters the party helped mount the challenge to Earl’s signatures.
Protests to the Libertarian candidates asserted Democrats were involved on the other side, managing and carrying out Earl’s signature-gathering effort.
One petition circulator told Smith during Tuesday’s hearing he’d turned in 10,000 part-petitions over the years in Ohio w and never disclosed an employer, because he was an “independent contractor,” without incident.
Smith concluded in his 18-page report that the disclosure law must be applied to formal employees as well as independent contractors, in order to protect against fraud.
“To exempt independent contractors from the disclosure provisions would allow disclosure of paid petitioning to be avoided by the simple expedient of using independent contractors rather than employees,” he wrote.
On the partisanship argument, Smith declared all Earl’s signature-gatherers were legally qualified.
Kasich, ahead in polls against likely Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald, has faced criticism from tea party activists and other conservatives within the GOP for some of his policy decisions, including backing Medicaid expansion and drilling tax increases.