Minor parties in Ohio won a welcome victory in federal court this week, successfully stalling a new law that would make it extremely difficult for their candidates to run in this year’s elections. The law, rushed through the Republican-controlled legislature in November, was a naked effort to protect John Kasich from multi-candidate competition as he seeks a second term as governor.
In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson found that the Libertarian, Green and Constitution parties of Ohio would have to “start from scratch to qualify for ballot access” this year, creating “substantial unfairness.” He blocked Jon Husted, the secretary of state, from applying the law retroactively to this year’s elections, leaving open whether higher thresholds for ballot access will apply in 2015 and beyond.
No question, Ohio needed to clarify its law on minor parties. Federal courts overturned the law in 2006; what followed was a series of directives from secretaries of state granting recognition. (Under Watson’s ruling, the directives will remain in place this year.) Watson did not dispute the notion that the state has an interest in “avoiding crowded ballots, voter confusion, and frivolous candidates.” What he found unacceptable was the legislature’s rush job.
The legislature could have acted anytime after 2006 to spell out new requirements. That it waited so long to do so added much weight to the Libertarian Party’s argument that the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, was aimed at its candidate for governor, Charlie Earl, who could draw support from conservatives angered at Kasich’s expansion of Medicaid.
The best course for dealing with election law involves the legislature proceeding in a comprehensive, bipartisan way. Seitz and his allies did neither, inviting a successful challenge by the Libertarians, who were quickly joined by the Green Party and the Constitution Party.