Judge blocks election law changes

By MARC KOVAC @ohiocapitalblog C-N Capital Bureau Published:

COLUMBUS -- A federal judge has blocked recent Republican-backed election law changes, granting Libertarians and other minor party candidates a victory over what they are calling the John Kasich Re-election Protection Act.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Watson granted the preliminary injunction Tuesday, ordering Secretary of State Jon Husted to provide affected candidates "access to the 2014 primary and general elections" in accordance to earlier-issued directives.

"The Ohio Legislature moved the proverbial goalpost in the midst of the game," Watson wrote. "Stripping plaintiffs of the opportunity to participate in the 2014 primary in these circumstances would be patently unfair."

In November, the Ohio House and Senate passed and Kasich quickly signed SB 193, codifying petition requirements for Libertarians, Green Party candidates and other minor parties.

The law changes would have blocked minor parties from participating in the May primary but given them until mid-year to collect signatures to qualify for the November election.

Proponents said the legislation was needed because existing state law was ruled unconstitutional about seven years ago, leaving minor party placement on ballots up to the secretary of state.

But opponents said the law changes were being moved quickly through the legislature to protect Republican incumbents in the November general election, making it harder for minor parties and candidates to reach the electorate.

The Libertarian Party of Ohio filed suit in November to block the new law from taking effect for the 2014 election cycle.

In court documents, they argued that they would be "unconstitutionally burdened in their attempt to engage in the electoral process, prevented from meaningful involvement in the 2014 primary and general elections and prevented from conveying their political message to people who would be receptive or inclined to elect their candidate."

But Husted countered in court documents that that new law did not "retroactively strip" minor party candidates of ballot access and that the federal court did not have jurisdiction in the case.

In his ruling Tuesday, Judge Watson noted that Ohio does not have a "constitutionally valid statute governing minor party access to the ballot" and that Libertarians and other plaintiffs have adequate community support to justify a right to appear on the ballot.

Watson wrote, "... The Ohio Legislature delayed passing a valid ballot access law for years, and retroactive application of SB 193 will cause plaintiffs to incur extra expense and duplicative efforts to comply with the new law. Those two factors alone amount to substantial unfairness."

Husted's office said it was reviewing the decision Tuesday.

Libertarians praised the outcome.

"Kasich and the Republican party thought they were silencing the growing liberty movement in Ohio, but now they have one hell of a fight on their hands," Aaron Keith Harris, Libertarian candidate for secretary of state, said in a released statement. "Voters no longer trust them when they pretend to oppose Democrats on issues like health care freedom and the runaway growth of government power over their everyday lives."

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