COLUMBUS -- Repub-lican Secretary of State Jon Husted ruled late Friday that Libertarian gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Earl and attorney general candidate Steven Linnabary did not submit enough valid petition signatures to qualify for the primary ballot.
The decision was in line with a hearing officer's recommendations, issued after a formal hearing in Columbus earlier in the week that included lengthy testimony from Libertarian Party of Ohio officers and others involved in the push to place Earl, his running mate Sherry Clark and Linnabary before voters on May 6.
The hearing officer determined that many of the petition signatures gathered for the trio were submitted contrary to state law and could not be counted toward the required total needed to qualify for the ballot.
As such, the candidates did not "have the requisite number of valid signatures to be eligible for nomination" for the May 6 primary ballot, Husted wrote.
Aaron Keith Harris, chairman of the state Libertarian Party's central committee, indicated in a released statement Friday that a legal challenge of Husted's decision was forthcoming.
"We will be challenging Husted's improper decision in federal court immediately," he said. "We fully expected Husted's decision, as he, John Kasich, and the rest of the Ohio GOP mafia have been working hard for months to violate voting rights and thwart democratic participation.
"They are cowards and bullies who are afraid to give voters a chance to hear from candidates who are fiscally responsible and value Constitutional rights."
He added, "We expect federal courts to restore Earl and Linnabary to the ballot, and are further encouraged and energized by the transparently desperate attempts to survive by a party that stands for nothing but crony capitalism, corruption, and more intrusive government in every area of life."
Earl, Clark and Linnabary sued to be allowed to participate in the primary after the Republican-controlled legislature moved law changes affecting how minor candidates qualify for the ballot.
The three subsequently submitted petitions, and county election boards initially said they had enough signatures to be included in the primary.
Their inclusion was considered a potential spoiler for Gov. John Kasich, providing Tea Party and other disgruntled conservatives with an option in November.
But protests filed by two Columbus-area men and one Cleveland-area man contended the three candidates did not follow state law in collecting signatures.
The challengers alleged paid petition circulators did not disclose their employers and improperly relied on the Ohio Democratic Party and backers of a gay marriage amendment to gather signatures for their candidacies.
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. Petition circulators were independent contractors and therefore not required to include an employer disclosure on submitted petitions.