COLUMBUS — With the Libertarian Party threatening a legal challenge, Gov. John Kasich signed a bill Wednesday requiring minor political parties to collect about 28,000 signatures next year to be recognized in Ohio.
And it wasn’t the only measure raising Democratic objections. The Senate passed a bill designed to establish uniform rules for the mailing of absentee-ballot applications.
The bill on minor parties moved quickly. Republicans pushed to get it signed into law by the end of the day — so it would not take effect after the Feb. 5 filing deadline for 2014 candidates and give minor parties another legal argument to use against the law.
Republicans argued the law is long overdue, filling a void left after the federal courts struck down Ohio’s prior minor-party law in 2006. Secretaries of state have been giving blanket recognition to a handful of minor parties since that ruling - and Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina, said it was time to stop letting the courts and a statewide officeholder set Ohio’s election law.
“I think it’s a good compromise,” Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said of the bill. “I think, privately, some of the minor parties are saying, ‘Gee, that’s a better deal than we thought we would get.’”
“I don’t know who he’s talking to,” said Kevin Knedler, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Ohio. He said the party likely would file a lawsuit by the end of the week against what they and other critics have dubbed the “Kasich Re-election Protection Act.”
Lawmakers had seven years to deal with the issue, Knedler said, but instead passed a bill 91 days before the candidate filing deadline. He said that the bill appears to be aimed at getting Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Charlie Earl off the ballot.
To remain recognized for four years, a minor party must get at least 2 percent of the vote in the gubernatorial race next year. Starting in 2015, it would bump it to 3 percent in the preceding gubernatorial or presidential race.
A number of candidates, including Earl, have already collected signatures to run and now must start over, Knedler said.
Democrats criticized the bill as an attempt to limit ballot access, noting that no one testified in favor of it. Ohio Democratic Chairman Rep. Chris Redfern pointed to the role the Libertarian candidate played in the Virginia governor’s race on Tuesday.
“It’s frankly unheard of that just a year, literally a year before the election, a governor is so disliked within his own party that he’s going to try to ban a Libertarian from the ballot,” he said.
Batchelder said he disagreed that the bill should be delayed, but when told that some minor-party candidates had already collected signatures, he said that may need more conversation.
“Obviously if somebody has petitions that are completed, perhaps we ought to look at that,” he said.
The bill passed the House 51-46 and the Senate 21-12.