COLUMBUS -- Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted could decide by week's end whether to allow Libertarian candidates for statewide office to remain on the primary ballot or remove them due to paperwork issues, pending the completion of a hearing process that started in Columbus Tuesday morning.
Friday is the statutory deadline for counties to remove candidates' names from the ballot for the May 6 contest. Currently included among candidates OK'd for inclusion are Charlie Earl, Sherry Clark and Steven Linnabary, Libertarian candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively.
But protests filed by two Columbus-area men and one Cleveland-area man contend the three candidates did not follow state law in collecting signatures and should not appear on the May primary ballot.
The challengers allege that paid petition circulators did not disclose their employers, as required by state law. John Zeiger, representing the challenger, named two circulators who failed to disclose their employer on petitions.
Once those signatures are excluded, the candidates "will lack the requisite 500 valid signatures from members of the Libertarian Party" needed to qualify for the ballot, according to the challenges.
Additionally, the challengers said the Libertarians' petitions were being pushed improperly by the Ohio Democratic Party "to impact the election by supervising, managing or otherwise organizing efforts to obtain the signatures necessary to assure that the Libertarian candidates were certified to the ballot."
During a hearing near the Statehouse Tuesday, legal counsel for one of the challengers painted a picture of a Libertarian Party of Ohio in disarray, unable to gain enough signatures to qualify its statewide candidates without assistance from Democrats and backers of a gay marriage amendment.
But legal counsel for the Libertarian Party countered that petitions submitted on behalf of candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general were in compliance with state law.
Attorney Mark Brown said petition circulators were independent contractors and therefore not required to include an employer disclosure on submitted petitions.
He also said the challenge was little more than an effort by the Republican Party to block Libertarians from the ballot, fearful that they would take votes away from Gov. John Kasich and other incumbent GOP officeholders.
"It's about the Republicans trying to intimidate Libertarians," Brown told reporters. "It's about removing Charlie Earl from the ballot because Kasich is afraid that Earl's going to steal votes from him. ... It's all bluff and bluster. It's for your consumption is what it is. It's for the press."
A hearing officer will consider the evidence and testimony and offer a recommendation for action by Husted, who will make a final decision on the matter.