By voting a Democratic ballot in the May 6 primary, Toledo Councilman Jack Ford disqualified himself as an independent candidate for the state Senate, according to a legal challenge filed Friday by the head of the Lucas County Democratic Party.
Democratic Chairman Steven Steel filed the protest with the Lucas County Board of Elections to force Mr. Ford off the Nov. 4 ballot, a move that likely would give Democratic incumbent state Sen. Edna Brown of Toledo a clear path to re-election.
State law and court rulings say that a person must state that he is not affiliated with a political party to appear on the ballot as an independent candidate. Mr. Steel requested a hearing.
“If Mr. Ford wanted to run for this office and offer a legitimate choice then he should have done it in a legitimate way. If you are affiliated with the Democratic Party, which I would argue Mr. Ford is, then the appropriate way would have been to run in the Democratic primary, rather than to miss that deadline and decide that a different deadline would apply,” Mr. Steel said.
The deadlines were Feb. 5 for the May 6 primary election and May 5 as an independent in November.
If the challenge succeeds, only Ms. Brown and Republican nominee Ernest McCarthy would be left on the Nov. 4 ballot for the 11th Senate district. Democrats fear Mr. Ford could split the Democratic vote and hand the election to Mr. McCarthy.
Mr. Ford said he is independent, noting that he did not seek the Democratic endorsement for Toledo School Board in 2007 and Toledo City Council in 2013.
“I’m disappointed. I really just wanted to get into the fight against heroin addiction. That was one of my prime motivations for running,” Mr. Ford said.
Mr. Ford said he did not know voting in the primary could compromise his status as an independent.
“I’ve been told that this particular set of facts is somewhat murkier than earlier precedents so I hope I’ll have a hearing,” Mr. Ford said. “I’m not going to give up just because they filed a complaint against me.”
Mr. McCarthy said he hopes Mr. Ford stays on the ballot. “I think either one of us would make a good senator,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Why don’t they just let the voter decide who they want in that position?”
Ms. Brown said she was sorry about Mr. Ford’s candidacy, as she considered him a mentor when she first served on Toledo City Council. She said the challenge has the backing of the Senate Democratic caucus and the state Democratic Party.
“There is an election process in place where we have a process of elimination called the primary. I do think it’s unfair, unless someone is legitimately an independent, to be allowed to sit out the primary and then run in the general election,” Ms. Brown said. “It would really be in my opinion a disgrace for a district with a Democratic index as high as this one to lose the seat to a Republican.”
The challenge cites Mr. Ford’s history as a Democratic voter and candidate and that he publicly explored in January running in the Democratic state primary for lieutenant governor. The key element of the challenge, however, is that he requested and voted a Democratic ballot, which in Ohio amounts to registering as a member of the Democratic Party.
It quotes a 2006 federal appeals court case that upheld a decision in Franklin County to decertify an independent candidate for Congress who had voted a Republican ballot after he filed to run as an independent. The candidate, Charles Morrison, was also on the primary ballot running for the county and state Republican committees.
“By registering as a Republican and then affirmatively requesting and voting the Republican Party primary ballot on May 2, 2006, Morrison necessarily evinced a desire to be affiliated with the Republican party at that time,” the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.
A lower court said that the law setting the filing deadline and rules for independent candidates “prevents splintered parties and unrestrained factionalism, avoids political fragmentation, and maintains the integrity of the ballot.”
Senate District 11 includes the cities of Toledo, Oregon, and Maumee, and Washington, Jerusalem, and Springfield townships.