(Updated) Parties may be over on ballots
Written by ALEX ASPACHER Sentinel Staff Writer
Tuesday, 15 October 2013 10:24
Many questions, few answers and significant implications encompass a state bill that could eliminate recognition of third parties and make it tougher to earn it back.
Wood County Libertarians are opposed to the bill their director says would end primary elections for minor political parties, essentially removing voters’ ability to register with groups that aren’t Republican or Democrat.
Approved by the Ohio Senate last week, the bill would nullify recognition of third parties and require they gain signatures from at least 1 percent of the total votes cast in the last election of a president or governor to become recognized again. Based on last year’s election, that’s more than 56,000 signatures.
Supporters say the new bill is necessary because Ohio has been operating without official requirements for party designation since 2006, when prior election laws were deemed unconstitutional after a challenge by the Libertarian Party of Ohio. Since then, such requirements and recognition of third parties have been set by directives from the secretary of state.
After earning third-party status, Libertarians and other groups would be required to gain 3 percent of the vote to remain qualified and conduct a primary in a subsequent election, a level they’re unlikely to sustain, according to Nathan Eberly, chair of the Libertarian Party of Wood County.
Eberly said these policies could dissuade his and other parties from sponsoring local candidates as they focus on state and national matters in an attempt to meet those thresholds.
“All Ohioans need to have the ability to associate with political parties of their choice, not the choice of the Legislature in Columbus”, he said. “Further, we hope that the legislature will listen to alternatives to assure a solid process is available for all political parties to exist in Ohio, while maintaining current standards for candidates.”
Eberly pointed out that the bill was introduced in the Senate a day after Libertarian Charles Earl of Bowling Green announced a campaign to challenge Republican Gov. John Kasich. It passed by a 22-11 vote mostly along party lines, with one Republican voting against it.
State Sen. Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green) said he supported the bill because state law should govern elections, not potentially “arbitrary” directives from an elected official, currently Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted.
“Almost everyone appears to say there should be at least some standards for third parties in Ohio,” he said.
“I don’t believe a Republican or a Democrat or any elected individuals should be deciding what minor parties have access to the ballot.”
Gardner acknowledged that the timing of the law in proximity to the 2014 election is problematic. He said he would support a delay of the bill’s requirements until Jan. 1, 2015 if it’s proposed by the Ohio House of Representatives, and said he’s spoken with representatives about possible amendments for troublesome areas.
He said primary elections should be maintained for 2014, and individuals should have the right to register with third parties regardless of the presence of a primary. Also, signatures gathered before the law should be valid, and the 1 percent threshold should be reduced in the upcoming election by the number of those who participate in a third-party primary, he said.
Gardner said he thinks the signature level is reasonable and attainable by minor-party candidates, and denied that the bill was an effort to restrict or hinder those parties. The 1 percent rule is already in place in about 25 states and would only require about 3 valid signatures per day in each of Ohio’s 88 counties, he said.
“This is not an effort to deny ballot access. But it’s not good policy to allow an elected official to decide unilaterally via a directive who can be a political party in Ohio.”
Gardner cautioned that he has not decided whether to support a House version of the bill if it returns to the Senate for final consideration. He said if the bill becomes “less accessible” or if parties fail to “find common ground,” he’s not likely to support it again.
Eberly said he’s hopeful the bill could be amended or delayed but acknowledged it would require compromise.
State Rep. Tim Brown (R-Bowling Green) said he planned to speak with Eberly about the bill on Monday. Brown did not immediately return calls this morning.
In comments made after deadline for the print edition, Brown said the bill will be reviewed by the House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee. He's not a member of that group but said he plans to suggest some amendments, including a delay of the new requirements until after the 2014 election.
Like Gardner, Brown expressed support for a law that would supplant responsibility for election requirements from the secretary of state. He said the bill will "almost certainly" be changed and sent back to the Senate for further consideration.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 October 2013 10:50