Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Bill would tighten minor parties’ access to ballot

Libertarians vow to sue if Ohio lawmakers pass measure today

COLUMBUS — Lawmakers are taking advantage of a delay created by a bill-drafting error to toughen requirements for Libertarian, Green, and other minor parties to get on Ohio’s ballot.

A six-member, Republican-controlled conference committee said Tuesday it will go beyond the one issue flagged last week that temporarily derailed the fast-tracked Senate Bill 193 to reinsert tougher signature thresholds, weakened last week in the House.

Either way, the Libertarian Party said it will sue in federal court if what it calls the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act” clears both chambers and is signed by the Republican governor today.

“Now you’re going to open up the entire process and let six people — three members of the House, three members of the Senate — change a bill that people spent a lot of time talking [about],” said Rep. Ron Gerberry (D., Canfield).

The proposal on the table would raise the signature thresholds above where they stood last week after tense negotiations in the House that the Senate was prepared to accept until a Democrat flagged the one provision the House inadvertently omitted.

“The intervening time of a week resulted in more sober, serious reflection on the whole process,” said Sen. Bill Seitz (R., Cincinnati), the bill’s sponsor and committee chairman.

The conference committee of four Republicans and two Democrats is expected to vote today in time to get the bill through both chambers. The committee counts two northwest Ohioans among its members — Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo), who opposed the bill, and Rep. Matt Huffman (R., Lima), who supported it.

In 2006, a federal court declared unconstitutional some of Ohio’s hurdles for minor parties to get on the ballot. The provisions in Senate Bill 193 as they are expected to be adopted today would be less restrictive than the provisions under that law.

But they’re still stricter than the directive issued by Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted in the absence of a law that automatically granted the Libertarian, Green, Constitution, and Socialist parties spots on the 2014 ballot.

Under the latest proposal, minor parties for 2014 would only have to submit the signatures of registered voters equivalent to at least 0.5 percent of the vote from the last presidential or gubernatorial election, about 28,000 based on 2012 results. That would be up from a flat 10,000 signatures as approved by the House last week.

Of those 28,000 signatures, 500 would have to come from each of eight of Ohio’s 16 congressional districts. This was the provision House Republicans dropped in their rush last week.

Once a party qualifies for the 2014 ballot, it could stay there for four years as long as its candidate for governor in 2014 or president in 2016 gets at least 2 percent of the Ohio vote. While down from 5 percent under prior law, it’s still double what the Libertarian candidate for president garnered in 2012.

Beginning in 2015, the signature requirement to get the party on the ballot in the first place would climb to 1 percent, or roughly 56,000 signatures. The candidate performance threshold to stay on the ballot for the next four years would climb to 3 percent.

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

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