The federal court ruled 2-1.
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Ohio's rules for primary elections make it too hard for minor parties to get on the ballot, a federal appeals court ruled.
Parties automatically qualify for the primary ballot if their candidate for governor or president received at least 5 percent of the vote in the previous Ohio election. Any other party must file a petition four months before the primary election with signatures equal to 1 percent of the number of total votes cast in the last state election.
That requirement meant minor parties had to file petitions with 32,290 voter signatures by Nov. 3, 2003, to get candidates on the March 2004 primary ballot.
In a 2-1 opinion, a U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals panel Wednesday that the rules were unnecessarily strict and tougher for small parties to meet. The court ruled Ohio's rules violate the First Amendment and have "a negative impact ... on minor parties and on political activity as a whole in Ohio."
"The practical effect of the state's election law has been to limit the rights of parties other than the Republican and Democratic Parties from appearing on the general election ballot," Gibbons wrote.
Ohio's Libertarian Party had appealed a lower court's decision to throw out its 2004 lawsuit against Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who didn't allow the party's candidates on the ballot that year because of problems with petitions.
Judge Richard Griffin dissented in Wednesday's decision, saying that the Libertarians had been able to follow the rules in previous elections. Ohio election rules treat the Libertarians the same as any other political party, Griffin wrote.
State officials have contended that the rules are fair because they apply to all parties. Attorney General Jim Petro could seek a hearing by the full 6th Circuit or could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
If the ruling stands, the state Legislature might have to rewrite the election rules.