COLUMBUS — Libertarians today accused Republicans of orchestrating the effort to remove them from the ballot for Ohio governor and attorney general.
Challengers to the Libertarians’ ballot spots, in turn, argued Democrats stepped in at the last minute to put the two candidates over the top in terms of their petitions when it appeared the effort was falling apart.
And the hearing officer presiding over the case for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted repeatedly questioned the relevance of the fact that a law firm, consulting firm, and political operatives usually associated with Democrats were involved behind the scenes in the Libertarian effort.
The challenge urges Mr. Husted to remove Charlie Earl, the former Republican state representative from Bowling Green, from the Ohio ballot for governor and Steven A. Linnabary, a Columbus civil engineer, from the ballot for attorney general.
Normally, third-party candidates don’t get this much attention in Ohio. But with conjecture that a Libertarian could draw votes from conservatives angry with positions taken by Republican Gov. John Kasich, there’s been plenty of legal scrambling.
The challengers are also trying to invalidate hundreds of signatures gathered by a pair of professional petition circulators paid per signature gathered who failed to indicate on their petitions who paid the bill. They also claim that one of those circulators was in fact a Democrat.
“The Ohio Democratic Party — through its leading law firm in central Ohio, the McTigue & McGinnis firm, and through its leading political operatives, Strategy Network and Mr. Ian James — jumped into action when they realized that there wouldn’t be enough ballot signatures to make sure the Libertarians were on the ballot…,” said John W. Zeiger, an attorney representing a Libertarian voter who filed the challenge to Mr. Earl’s petitions.
He argued that Ohioans for Liberty, a non-profit corporation largely funded by the state Democratic Party, hired Strategy Network to help gather signatures at the last-minute to keep the Libertarian candidacies alive.
“Seems strange that the leading Democratic organizations and law firms would be in the middle of soliciting petitions for other candidates of a different party affiliation,” Mr. Zeiger said.
But Mark Brown, attorney for the Libertarian candidates, countered that this effort to remove Mr. Earl and Mr. Linnabary is a continuation of an effort seen in a law passed last year that would have placed new restrictions on minor party access to the ballot. The law was passed with Republican votes and signed by Mr. Kasich.
“We went to (federal) court and got a court order saying you can’t do that,” Mr. Brown said. “So now the Republican Party lost in federal court, the Libertarians are on the ballot, and now they’re renewing their effort before you to selectively get candidates off the ballot, using technicalities in Ohio law, using bluster and innuendo. I think the secretary of state is smarter than that.”
Brad Smith, a Capital University law professor and former Federal Elections Commissioner, is presiding over both cases. The Republican secretary of state hopes to have a recommendation from Mr. Smith in hand by Friday, but the final decision will be made by Mr. Husted.
Mr. Kasich faces no opposition in the May 6 primary election. The Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, faces a primary challenge from virtually unknown Larry Ealy of the Dayton area.
Mr. Linnabary hopes to challenge Republican incumbent Attorney General Mike DeWine and the Democratic candidate, former Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper.