Ohio Libertarians sue over 3rd-party ballot limits

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Libertarians in political battleground Ohio challenged the constitutionality of new ballot access rules in federal court Friday, arguing that a bill signed Wednesday by Republican Gov. John Kasich will effectively eliminate all minor party candidates from next year's primary ballots.

That's because no minor party operating in the state won the percentage of votes in the last election that was required by the bill to remain a qualified party next spring, the filing in U.S. District Court in Columbus argued, adding that the right to a primary is guaranteed under Ohio's Constitution.

The bill moved quickly through the GOP-dominated Legislature as Ohio Republicans face increased competition from tea party supporters who have threatened to back a third-party challenger to Kasich next year.

The bill established what qualifies as a political party and what percentage of the vote must be won to maintain that status. The current qualifications in Ohio law were deemed unconstitutional in 2006.

But the timing of the bill's introduction on the day a Libertarian challenger filed against Kasich prompted naysayers to dub the bill the "John Kasich Re-election Protection Act."

The legislation's sponsor disputes the characterization. And Kasich has said he didn't request the bill.

Opponents of the bill say it unfairly changes the rules in the midst of campaign activities for next year, including signature collection.

Capital University law professor Mark R. Brown, a ballot access expert representing the plaintiffs, said Friday's complaint is connected to a suit Libertarians filed last month challenging a June law that requires circulators of candidate petitions to be Ohio residents.

Brown said that without the opportunity for a primary, Ohio's minor party candidates would have to collect about 30,000 signatures to get on the general election ballot rather than getting on automatically. They could also lose the fundraising and name recognition benefits of the spring primary election, he said.

Robert Fitrakis, an attorney for the Green Party, said that party expects to file suit against the new law next week.