Debate Center: New law may be primary problem for minority party candidates
The Ohio Libertarian Party has some problems with Governor John Kasich’s latest executive decision. Governor Kasich signed Senate Bill 193 into law earlier this month. In the law, the new ballot access rules have changed, and according to Libertarians the change essentially eliminates minor party participation in the state’s next primary election. The new rules now set requirements for what can be considered a qualified party, based on the percentage of votes that party received in the previous election. From the number in the last election, no minor party has met those requirements. In response, the Ohio Libertarian Party filed a federal case challenging the constitutionality of Senate Bill 193.
For the last few election cycles in Ohio, the Secretary of State has just placed any minor party candidates on the ballot for governor in the absence of regulations. Under the new ballot access rules, however, any third-, fourth-, or fifth-party is not automatically placed on the primary ballot. They must meet the required threshold for percentage of votes cast for their party in the previous election, or they must gather about 30,000 signatures to get on the general election ballot, including at least 500 signatures from half of Ohio’s congressional districts.
Opponents of Senate Bill 193 simply call this the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act.” They say the timing of this law is suspicious – coming just before the 2014 filing date for the primary – and was swiftly guided through the legislative process where all but one Republican voted for it. Opponents call this an attempt to prevent a challenge to Kasich’s reelection because he has lost support with conservatives and especially Libertarian-leaning voters who could turn to his main competition, Charlie Earl. They further argue the restrictions on third parties, which essentially strip them of primary participation, violates the Ohio Constitution. They also claim the new rules will prevent the fundraising and name recognition candidates get in the primary.
Supporters say this law is a response to a 2006 court ruling which struck down the prior rules for third-party candidates having access to the primary ballot. Supporters argue this new law simply creates a law where no law existed for the last eight years and places control of elections where they say it is supposed to be – in the hands of the legislature, not the Secretary of State. Supporters go on to say the new rules give other parties plenty of time to meet qualifications under the law and the law actually reduces the requirements for candidates, compared to the previous law struck down by the courts.
Libertarians are not the only ones seeking help from the courts. Reports have it the Ohio Green Party is also preparing a suit challenging the law. As opponents of the law as well, their plea may add to the argument the new law not only raises constitutional issues, but also aims to delegitimize third-party candidates in an effort to strengthen the two-party system. The law’s supporters deny all of this claiming the law actually benefits third parties and establishes clear rules where none existed before.
Reach DCP forum moderator Alex Culpepper at AlexCulpepper@DaytonCityPaper.com
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Debate Left:Kasich doesn’t trust voters
By Michael Truax
Another stroke of fortune for the governor: In the latest Ohio gubernatorial race, the Libertarians scored a hair under 2.5 percent of the vote, barely missing the 3 percent cut-off set by the new rules to automatically qualify as a minor party. It looks like they’ve been temporarily invalidated as a party, after Secretary of State Jon Husted had already added them to the ballot. Now the Libertarians and like-minded independent voters know who their friends are.
If the situation were reversed, with Democrats in control in Columbus, with the governor’s re-election threatened by a third party, it’s no stretch to see them pulling the same stunt. Neither side of the duopoly really wants to cater to the loud, activist third parties. “A vote for (Challenger X) is a vote for (Opposition Y).”
Call it Ralph Nader Syndrome.
Even when they don’t win elections – and they rarely do – third parties are influential. Their messages permeate the airwaves, Internet discussions and newspaper stories. Like the Libertarians are doing now, they threaten to split the broad base of like-minded voters. Even a percentage or two is enough in many major elections. Major parties are forced to consider and debate their issues or even turn into advocates in order to marginalize the threat of splitting votes. If the major parties can reduce the viability of the third-party candidates, it reduces their political potency.
For voters, fewer choices on the ballot means less feedback from decisions unpopular to their base. In this case, Kasich wants protection after expanding Medicaid. Instead of running from the right, however, why not make a better case to voters toward the middle of the spectrum?
Isn’t the point of a democracy that the people get to decide with their ballot? This gambit is an attack on citizens who vote for the major parties as well, by limiting their electoral choices and opportunity to give politicians critical feedback. That’s what Kasich and Co. signed up for by running for office.
Regardless of political orientation, the entire ballot access-limit scenario is troubling. A politician altered the rules affecting his own re-election odds. If they were so concerned about the gaps in the Ohio Revised Code, why wasn’t this fixed five years ago? If they’re just getting around to it now, several major elections later, why can’t they wait until 2015 to enact this law?
The 2014 ballot had already been set, with just a few minor parties on the list, courtesy of the Republican Secretary of State. It posed no danger to the electoral system – only the system set up by the major parties. It’s no stretch that opponents have called this the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act.”
Regardless of the political games, I believe the Libertarians are organized enough to get their candidate on the ticket. Either by court-ordered suspension of this law, or by swift footwork, the Libertarians will find representation. Now they have proof, however, exactly what the Republicans think of them. And now they have proof of how much influence they have.
If for no other reason, Kasich should be castigated for lobbing softballs to Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, enabling tweets like this: “@LPNational gets heave ho from friends in the @ohiogop. Limits to getting to ballot soon to be law. Send thank you notes to @JohnKasich.”
For the Democrats, this entire exercise must be especially satisfying. Kasich’s evasive maneuver is in part the result of the right-wing “base” activation, which created a more cohesive force to the right of the traditional Republican party. They’re reaping the whirlwind that helped them clobber the Democrats in 2010 to take the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Dems have been waiting, metaphorical picnic baskets in hand, like the spectators at Bull Run.
S.B. 193 may have implications greater than the Ohio gubernatorial election. The elected Republicans of the pre-eminent swing state have turned on their far-right wing. After his early days struggling with the public employees, Kasich arguably tracked toward the center and establishment conservatives are trying to protect an important gubernatorial seat and a possible 2016 presidential contender.
Ohio, again, is a case study for national politics. If taking away ballot access or splitting from the margin is the national Republican strategy to assimilate the threat to the far right, the Republicans are in for a civil war.
Michael Truax is a freelance writer, digital marketing consultant, entertainment enthusiast and bar trivia champion living in West Chester, Ohio. He can be reached at
Debate Right: If this is really a political party, show us some support
On Sept. 6, 2006, in Libertarian Party of Ohio v. Blackwell, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that Ohio’s laws for political party formation and ballot access were unconstitutional. Under the previous Ohio Revised Code Section [R.C. 3517.01(A)(l)], political parties whose presidential candidate did not receive at least five percent of the vote at the general election ceased to be political parties in Ohio. The Court of Appeals found this formula to be unconstitutional as it deprived “plaintiffs of speech, voting and associational rights secured by the First and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution of the United States.” Since that date, two Ohio Secretaries of State have allowed ballot access to at least four minor parties in Ohio: the Constitution Party, the Green Party, the Libertarian Party and the Socialist Party USA. In 2008, there was also the Independent Party, with Ralph Nader at the top of the ticket.Certainly, finding the right balance between the freedom of association rights of Ohio’s minor parties and their candidates and the pragmatic and fiscally responsible requirements of running fair and cost-effective elections is not easy. The legislation that was found unconstitutional was determined to be too burdensome on minor parties. That’s not to say that some limitations on what group can and should be considered a minor party is inappropriate. Taxpayers pay for access to the ballot these groups are craving. Each qualifying political party is entitled to then be placed on the primary ballot, with the expenses for that status passed on to Ohio’s taxpayers. Estimates run in the neighborhood of $1 million for each statewide party primary. We’re spending roughly a million dollars for each minor party primary. Is it so unreasonable that there should be some threshold for determining when a group should qualify as a minor party with all of the rights and privileges incumbent on such a designation?
In the 2008 general election in Ohio, only the presidential candidates of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party received at least five percent of the vote in Ohio. Obama won 51.5 percent of the vote, followed by McCain with 46.9 percent of the vote. Based on the decision by the Sixth Circuit, the State of Ohio permitted five minor parties to have access to the general election ballot. The results for these five minor parties were less than spectacular. The Independent party led the pack with .74 percent of the vote. The Libertarian Party boasted .35 percent of the vote. The Constitution Party gathered .22 percent of the vote. The Green Party had a showing of a whopping .15 percent of the vote. And our friends in the Socialist Party showed up at .05 percent of the vote. Combined, the minor parties polled a total of 1.51 percent of the total popular vote of 5,708,350. The cost for including these five minor parties is millions of dollars. Is it unreasonable for Ohio law to require some modicum of support in order to be qualified as a minor party?
In the 2012 Ohio presidential contest, the four minor parties pulled 1.64 percent of the total vote. If, according to the Sixth Circuit, 5 percent of the vote is too high of a hurdle to set for minor parties, what should the number be to establish the legal status as a minor party?
The Ohio Legislature attempted to address the issue last week. Under Senate Bill 193, passed by the House and Senate on Wednesday afternoon, and now signed into law by the governor, third parties would each need to collect about 28,000 signatures, including at least 500 signatures each from at least half of Ohio’s 16 congressional districts, to regain recognition as a party by the state. To stay on the ballot, parties would have to garner 3 percent of the vote in a presidential or gubernatorial election.
This law is a reasonable balance between the previous law, which required 5 percent of the vote to qualify as a minor political party and the reduced requirement of 3 percent. If a political movement and the party attached to such movement can’t attract 3 percent of the total vote in a presidential year, why should Ohio taxpayers be forced to fund their primary elections?
At some point it becomes a matter of practicality. Under the current situation, any group wanting to qualify for the ballot in Ohio need only to persuade the Secretary of State that they have at least as strong a following as the Socialist party. In 2012, their presidential candidate received only 2,900 votes. Using the estimate of $1 million as the cost of running their statewide primary election, that comes to about $344.83 per general election vote. If Urban Meyer formed the Urban Meyer Party, a party with a single platform of promoting Ohio State football, I am absolutely certain that they would receive more than 2,900 votes. Is that a reason to qualify them as an Ohio Minor Political Party? I don’t really think so.
I would not object to delaying the start date of the new law until after the 2014 primary election. This would eliminate the argument that this new law was passed simply to protect Republican Governor John Kasich from dissent from the conservative wing of the Republican Party. But the fact remains there needs to be some threshold as to what qualifies a group as a minor political party, and the law just signed into law by the governor is a reasonable attempt to do so.
Reach DCP freelance writer Charles Chartwell at ContactUs@DaytonCityPaper.com.