Federal court won't rehear Ohio Libertarian's case

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A Libertarian candidate for Ohio governor had his hopes dashed Wednesday, when a federal appeals court in Cincinnati declined to rehear his appeal seeking access to the state ballot.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was the last stop for candidate Charlie Earl.

Ohio's elections chief disqualified Earl from the primary election after his nominating petitions were challenged. Secretary of State Jon 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 Husted's decision was unconstitutional and conflicted with prior rulings of the office allowing them to submit signatures without declaring an employer.

A federal judge ruled against the party, saying the law they challenged "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."

A three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit upheld that decision, determining that Libertarians' slim chances of a successful First Amendment challenge to Husted's decision should bar the party from proceeding. The trio acknowledged that their decision could present "severe and irreparable harm" on the party and likely undermine its status as a ballot-qualified party in the state.

The Libertarian Party of Ohio appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

The party's latest request sought a review by the full 6th Circuit.

Earl's candidacy had the potential to draw votes from Republican Gov. John Kasich as he faces Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, in November. It's expected to be among closely watched races around the country this fall.

Observers expect it could tighten, but the latest Quinnipiac University poll had incumbent Kasich ahead of FitzGerald by a significant 15 percentage points.

The high stakes nature of the contest has come through during arguments over Earl.

It was revealed during his petition-challenge hearing that Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern and Ohio Libertarian Chairman Kevin Knedler met for breakfast in January, as signature-gathering for Earl had seemed to stall. A Democratic law firm and employees of a Democratic-affiliated consulting firm were paid to help Earl through a business entity that got most of its money from Democrats.

Later, Libertarians sought to target the Ohio Republican Party in their lawsuit, claiming the GOP "is manipulating Ohio's ballot to its advantage." They contended the protest against Earl's petitions was solicited by agents that had likely connections to the Ohio Republican Party.