Libertarian loses appeal, remains off May ballot

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A federal appeals court on Thursday denied an attempt by the Libertarian Party of Ohio to get its gubernatorial candidate on the May 6 primary ballot.

A lawyer for the party said it would immediately appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ohio's elections chief had disqualified the Libertarian candidate, Charlie Earl, after his nominating petitions were challenged. Husted agreed with a hearing officer who found that two Earl petitioners failed to properly disclose their employers.

Libertarians sought to reinstate Earl's ballot status, arguing that Husted's ruling violated petition circulators' First Amendment rights and conflicted with previous state rulings allowing them to submit signatures without declaring an employer.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled that Libertarians' slim chances of a successful First Amendment challenge to Husted's decision should bar the party from proceeding.

The three-judge panel acknowledged the decision could present "severe and irreparable harm" on the party and likely undermine its status as a ballot-qualified party in the state.

"We note that the LPO has struggled to become and remain a ballot-qualified party in Ohio, and we acknowledge that this decision entails that their efforts must continue still," the opinion said. "But we also note that we decide one case at a time, on the record before us. In so doing, we preserve the First Amendment's primary place in our democracy over the long run."

Husted's office praised the ruling.

"Today's ruling is more validation that we are following the law and properly administering elections in Ohio," spokesman Matt McClellan said.

Earl's candidacy has the potential to draw votes from Gov. John Kasich, Husted's fellow Republican. The incumbent faces likely Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive.

The Libertarian Party of Ohio also sought to add the Ohio Republican Party to its lawsuit, claiming the GOP "is manipulating Ohio's ballot to its advantage." The Libertarians contend the protest was solicited by agents that are likely connected to the state Republican Party.

A federal judge ruled against the Libertarians in March.

U.S. District Judge Michael Watson had said that the law challenged by the party "places only a minimal burden on political speech and the disclosures it requires are substantially related to Ohio's significant interest in deterring and detecting fraud in the candidate petition process."