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Ohio Senate passes new third-party ballot rules

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A measure to set new election rules for minor political parties passed the state Senate on Tuesday despite concerns from members of the Libertarian and Green parties that the changes would obstruct their access to the ballot and create hurdles for their candidates.

The proposal cleared the Republican-controlled Senate on a 22-11 vote, with one GOP senator joining Democrats in opposition. The bill now goes to the House.

Gary Daniels, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, told a Senate committee earlier Tuesday that the proposed petition requirements are onerous for third parties and that the changes come too close to the 2014 election, especially for candidates who are collecting signatures for office.

"While there may not be a perfect time to implement these types of changes, it appears many of the proposed changes in Ohio law would ultimately harm those they are intended to help, at least for the 2014 election cycle," Daniels said.

The bill's sponsor said the standards are long overdue, since the state's law was deemed unconstitutional by a federal appeals court in 2006.

Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, said that election officials have continued to recognize the third parties in existence at the time of the ruling because there is no law to enforce.

"Obviously, if you are in one of those minor parties, you probably would like that current, lawless state of affairs to continue because you get to stay on the ballot without demonstrating any modicum of support," Seitz said.

The proposal comes as Ohio Republicans face growing competition from tea party supporters who say they may support a third-party challenger to Republican Gov. John Kasich next year.

Seitz's bill would require minor parties to gather petition signatures from at least 1 percent of the total vote cast in the most recent election for governor or president. That's more than 56,000 signatures using last year's election numbers. To remain a qualified political party, groups must get 3 percent of the total votes cast in the following gubernatorial or presidential election.

No third-party candidate in the most recent elections has reached those numbers.

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson garnered 0.9 percent, or 49,493 votes, in the 2012 presidential election. In the 2010 gubernatorial race, Libertarian candidate Ken Matesz got 2.4 percent of the vote, while Green Party candidate Dennis Spisak won 1.5 percent.

Charlie Earl, a Libertarian candidate for governor, opposes the bill and predicted it would unite disenfranchised voters.

"What I believe they've done is taken four or five pockets of resistance and combined us into one bag of fury," he told reporters. "And we're coming after them. We're not going to stop."

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