Ohio cannot change the rules on minor parties for the 2014 ballot in mid-game, a federal judge ruled today.
Republican-appointed U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Watson in Columbus issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of a new law and ordering Secretary of State Jon Husted to follow through with his original directive granting several small parties spots on the primary election ballot.
The ruling, however, applies only to 2014.
Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office said it had not decided whether to appeal the ruling.
The Libertarian and Green parties had objected to the retroactive application to the current election cycle of a law they’ve dubbed the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act.” Senate Bill 193, passed by Republicans and signed into law by Mr. Kasich in November, would have voided the Husted directive putting the Libertarian, Green, Constitution, and Socialist parties on the 2014 ballot.
“The upshot of that provision, along with other provisions in the bill, is that minor parties must start from scratch to qualify for ballot access,” wrote Judge Watson, a 2004 George W. Bush appointee. “…if S.B. 193 goes into effect, the nominating petitions already filed by minor party candidates to appear on the 2014 primary election ballot in reliance on [Mr. Husted’s directive] would be nullified, and the time and resources expended on those petitions will have been wasted.”
The same judge in November put on hold another law passed last year by majority Republicans that raised the bar for proposed constitutional amendments, referenda, and other initiatives to quality for the 2014 ballot.
“Once again, the courts stand with us and with the First Amendment rights of all Ohioans to political freedom and suffrage in Ohio,” said Kevin Knedler, chairman of the Libertarian executive committee. “The foundation of a democratic society is the right to vote and to have real choices on the ballot.
“A lot of voters, especially young voters, refuse to be put in either the Republican or Democrat boxes, and the Libertarian Party offers a true alternative for voters who want individual freedom in every area of life,” he said.
Under Senate Bill 193, a minor party faced a deadline of 125 days before the November general election to file signatures qualifying its label for the ballot alongside the two major parties. Minor parties would have had to submit enough signatures of registered voters to equal at least 0.5 percent of the vote from the last presidential or gubernatorial election, about 28,000 based on the 2012 election. Of those, 500 would have to come from each of eight of Ohio’s 16 congressional districts.
After qualifying for the ballot, the party 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. That’s double what the 2012 Libertarian presidential candidate got.
Beginning in 2015, the signature requirement to get the party recognized on the ballot would climb to 1 percent, or roughly 56,000. The candidate’s subsequent vote performance to stay on the ballot for the next four years would be 3 percent.
“The Ohio Legislature moved the proverbial goalpost in the midst of the game,” Judge Watson wrote. “Stripping [the minor parties] of the opportunity to participate in the 2014 primary in these circumstances would be patently unfair.”
The minor parties had also urged the judge to declare the law unconstitutional and prevent its enforcement in subsequent elections, but Judge Watson did not immediately address that issue.
By Jim Provance - The Blade, Toledo, Ohio (MCT)
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