Ohio Senate approves minor-party bill

House to take up measure on ballot access after court invalidated previous rules


COLUMBUS — The Libertarian, Green, and other minor party candidates would have to work their way back onto the state ballot in 2014 — either through petitions or the courts — under a bill passed solely with Republican votes in the Ohio Senate on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 193 would establish new restrictions for ballot access after court rulings invalidated prior rules.

The new restrictions would write over a current directive issued by GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted that has granted Libertarian, Green, Constitution, and Socialist parties spots on next year’s gubernatorial election in the absence of a law.

“Libertarians have been sitting in the back of the proverbial political bus for far too long,” said Sherry Clark, running mate to the Libertarians’ expected 2014 candidate for governor, former Republican state Rep. Charlie Earl of Bowling Green.

“But guess what, no matter how you vote on this scheme that we protest today, we, the third parties of Ohio, will overcome — even if we have to go to Washington, D.C., to the Supreme Court of the United States, where it is written on its portico, ‘Equal Justice Under Law,’ ” she said.

All Senate Democrats joined a single Republican, Sen. Kevin Bacon (R., Columbus), in opposing the bill, which passed the chamber 22-11.

The measure now goes to the House.

On its face, the bill appears to make it easier for third parties to access the statewide ballot, at least compared to a law that a federal court struck down as unconstitutional in 2006.

But thanks to the Husted directive in wake of the court ruling, those parties now have a place on the ballot.

The bill would require the parties to gather signatures of 1 percent of those who voted in the last gubernatorial or presidential election in order to win a place on the ballot.

Based on the 2012 presidential election, that would mean nearly 56,000 votes.

After winning a spot on the ballot, they could stay there for four years, as long as during that period they garner at least 3 percent of the vote in either a presidential or gubernatorial election. Although that’s down from 5 percent under prior law, the Libertarian Party drew less than 1 percent in the 2012 presidential election in Ohio.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati), defended the 1 percent signature threshold in the face of a failed Democratic amendment that would have lowered it to 2,000.

“I do not believe that there is anything that we need to do to cut the signature level for party formation to only 2,000,” he said. “Many, many states ... have thresholds of 1 percent or more for party formation. ... We are on sound ground.”

Wood County Libertarian Party Chairman Nathan Eberly noted the restrictions could undermine a Libertarian currently sitting on Perrysburg City Council.

“We exist with or without candidates for existing offices,” he said. “Currently, many offices across the state are not represented with a Libertarian candidate, but it does not mean we don’t have a presence. ... If this bill were to go into effect (the Perrysburg councilman’s) ability to say that he’s a Libertarian candidate is in jeopardy.”

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