COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Representatives of minor political parties in Ohio conferred Thursday on whether to appeal after suffering their latest blow in a long-running legal battle for more visibility and access in state elections.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati late Wednesday upheld a lower court’s finding that the way members of the Ohio Elections Commission are chosen does not violate the Libertarian Party of Ohio’s First Amendment rights. The seven-member board consists of three members of each major party and one who is unaffiliated.
Libertarians argued that structure sets up an unconstitutional condition on full participation in the state’s “political community and electoral machinery” that requires its members to forfeit their “freedom of association.”
The court disagreed, saying the legal framework is constitutional because “it is ‘appropriate’ for Ohio to consider political affiliation to serve its stated interest in maintaining partisan balance among the members of the OEC.”
“There is no comparison to be drawn from laws which afford equality of opportunity to all political parties, and those that expressly prohibit a person from government employment because of a protected characteristic,” the court wrote.
Mark Brown, the Libertarians’ attorney, said a decision had not yet been made on whether to appeal.
The case grew out of an earlier dispute that the 2018 Libertarian and Green Party candidates for governor lodged at the commission, alleging their exclusion from that year’s debates amounted to illegal corporate contributions to the then-candidates, Republican Mike DeWine and Democrat Richard Cordray.
The commission unanimously voted to dismiss their complaint, and Libertarians filed the latest suit against its members.
The debate process has concerned voter advocates across the U.S. as it has become increasingly subject to boycotts, political positioning and grandstanding they see as unhelpful to democracy. The minor parties and their candidates contended a then-new state debate commission and debate sponsors benefited major parties over minor ones.