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Published: Wednesday, 10/2/2013

State Senate considers 3rd party ballot rules

Opponents say time limits too restrictive

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — A bill that could make it more difficult for small parties to battle Republicans and Democrats on the same playing field in Ohio is headed for a potential vote today just two weeks after being introduced.

Members of the Libertarian and Green parties on Tuesday urged a Senate committee to start over, or at least put off until after the 2014 election cycle the effects of what one Libertarian called “the John Kasich Re-election Act.”

Charlie Earl, a former Republican state representative from Bowling Green, has begun gathering signatures to run as a Libertarian candidate in 2014 against Republican Gov. Kasich and his presumed Democratic opponent, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald.

The bill, Mr. Earl said, could leave him as a candidate without a party label on the statewide ballot.

“I appreciate you finally doing something. I applaud it,” he told the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati). “But I think to suddenly try to jam five pounds of excrement into a three-pound bag at the last minute forces the minor parties to do a Kabuki dance.”

Some more conservative elements of the Republican Party have said they prefer Mr. Earl over Mr. Kasich because of the governor’s support for expansion of Medicaid under the federal health-care law.

The Senate State Government Oversight and Reform Committee is expected to vote today on Senate Bill 193, placing the bill in a position for a possible full Senate vote.

A federal appeals court declared Ohio’s restrictions on minor-party access to the statewide ballot unconstitutional in 2006.

While Senate Bill 193 would make it easier for third-party candidates to qualify for the ballot compared to the restrictions that were struck down, it would undo a current directive Secretary of State Jon Husted, also a Republican, issued in absence of a law that already grants ballot access to the Libertarian, Green, Constitution, and Socialist parties.

Under the bill, a “minor political party” candidate would have to file signatures equivalent to 1 percent of those who voted in the last presidential or gubernatorial election in order to initially qualify for the ballot. The petitions would have to be filed 125 days before the general election, compared to before the primary election under prior law.

To keep its spot on the ballot in subsequent elections, a minor party’s candidate must garner at least 3 percent of the vote in the last presidential or gubernatorial election. While that threshold is lower than the prior law’s 5 percent, the Libertarian candidate in the 2012 presidential election received less than 1 percent and would not qualify for 2014.

Mr. Seitz complained that someone always objects that now is the wrong time to enact election reform.

“Frankly, that’s why the legislature has done bupkes on this subject for seven years,” he said. “Everybody’s always saying, ‘Kick the can down the road.’ Well, we’re not going to kick the can down the road if I have anything to say about it.”

Several Libertarians offered possible compromises, urging lawmakers to tie the retention vote threshold to more than one statewide elected office, such as governor and auditor, every four years, rather than to a presidential election where their candidates have had less success.

Absent that, they urged lawmakers to postpone the bill’s effects until 2015.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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