State lawmakers on Wednesday passed new ballot-access requirements for Ohio’s minor political parties, overcoming bipartisan criticism that the changes would block third-party participation in next year’s elections. While the new rules would lower existing thresholds for minor parties to get and stay on the ballot, opponents say the bill is designed to help Gov. John Kasich win re-election by blocking Libertarian Charlie Earl’s gubernatorial candidacy. On Wednesday, Libertarians renewed their pledge to quickly file a lawsuit challenging the changes if they’re signed into law. Under Senate Bill 193, passed by the House and Senate on Wednesday afternoon, third parties would each need to collect about 28,000 signatures, including at least 500 signatures each from at least half of Ohio’s 16 congressional districts, to regain recognition as a party by the state. Minor parties wouldn’t be allowed to hold primaries next spring under the proposal. Instead, parties that meet the initial signature requirements by next July would submit to the state a list of candidates to appear on the November ballot.
Starting in 2015, activists would have to collect signatures equal to 1 percent of the last presidential or gubernatorial vote — about 56,000 votes in the 2012 general election — to win party recognition. To stay on the ballot, parties would have to garner 3 percent of the vote in a presidential or gubernatorial election.
The revised bill narrowly passed the House 51-43 after the Senate approved it 21-12. The legislation now heads to Gov. Kasich’s desk, who must sign it quickly for the new rules to take effect before the Feb. 5, 2014 primary filing deadline.
The thresholds passed in the final bill are higher than those passed by the House last week, though they’re lower than those previously passed by the Senate. The legislation went to conference committee after senators noticed that the House’s unintentionally deleted some language in its final version of the bill.