Minor political party bill could spur Ohio lawsuit
Written by ANN SANNER, Associated Press   
Tuesday, 05 November 2013 14:24

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio bill setting requirements on minor political parties hasn't been without its political missteps and dissension.

A piece of the measure was inadvertently cut after the House made a series of last-minute changes to ensure its passage last week. The Senate, which had been poised to send it to the governor that day, had to reject the bill so it could be fixed.

A compromise panel is scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon to hash out the differences. Both chambers could vote on the proposal as soon as Wednesday.

The measure sets the qualifications for groups that want to be recognized as political parties and how they can gain ballot access in the perennial battleground state. It also establishes what percentage of the vote a party would need to keep its status as a political party.

The proposal comes as Republicans who dominate the Legislature face growing competition from tea party supporters who say they may back a third-party challenger to Republican Gov. John Kasich next year.

That's led Libertarians, Democrats and other opponents of the bill to call it the "John Kasich Re-election Protection Act."

The legislation's sponsor, Sen. Bill Seitz, disputes the characterization. And Kasich has said he didn't request the bill, which was introduced on the day his Libertarian challenger entered the race.

"Look, we haven't had any law here for six or seven years," Kasich told reporters Thursday. "If you want to be considered a major party, you ought to show that you have a little scale and a little bit of mass."

Ohio's law was deemed unconstitutional by a federal appeals court in 2006. Since then, election officials have continued to recognize the third parties in existence at the time of the ruling because there is no law to enforce.

Supporters of the bill say the requirements they seek are long overdue.

"We don't have anything in place for people who want to form minor parties," state Rep. Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, told his colleagues. He said it's been left up to the courts or secretaries of state to decide, and the rules are the responsibility of the Legislature.

Under the House-passed measure, organizations must gather 10,000 signatures from registered voters to form their parties in 2014. Thereafter, they'd need one-half of 1 percent of the total votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial or presidential election. That's roughly 28,000 signatures using last year's numbers.

To remain qualified, parties must then get 2 percent of total votes cast in the following gubernatorial or presidential election. That could be challenging to the minor parties.

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson garnered 0.9 percent, or 49,493 votes, in the 2012 presidential election. In the 2010 gubernatorial race, Libertarian candidate Ken Matesz got 2.4 percent of the vote, while Green Party candidate Dennis Spisak won 1.5 percent.

Opponents of the bill say it unfairly changes the rules in the middle of the game, particularly for candidates who already have collected signatures for next year's ballots and have started to campaign.

Leaders in at least two minor political parties say they expect to sue should the Legislature approve the bill.

"We think we're the collateral damage because they are going after the Libertarians," said Bob Fitrakis, co-chairman of the Ohio Green Party. "None of this makes any sense."

Aaron Keith Harris, central committee chairman of the Libertarian Party of Ohio, said any requirements for minor parties should not take effect in 2014.

"Anything that makes us reset and start over we will be going to court over," he said.


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