Have you heard about the current “lawless” state of affairs in Ohio’s election system?
About how the Libertarians and Green Partiers and socialists and constitutionalists and any number of other minor political parties are running roughshod over the fabric of our democracy, making a mockery of ballots and voters and the Republicans and Democrats who control the government?
What’s that? You’ve heard no such thing?
You’re not alone. The topic didn’t surface in force until a few weeks ago, when Republican lawmakers put associated law changes on a fast track.
Now, SB 193 is pretty close to Gov. John Kasich’s desk, instituting signature requirements for minor political parties and candidates to qualify for the ballot.
Proponents rightly note that the state has been without such laws since a federal court ruled existing code unconstitutional about seven years ago.
That means the current and former secretaries of state have had to make decisions about minor party candidates appearing on the ballot without the guidance of any state law.
That’s a problem and adds another layer of potential partisan criticism onto the state’s chief elections officer.
“We haven’t had any law here for six or seven years,” Gov. Kasich said last week when asked about the issues. “And if you want to run as an independent, that’s good, fine... but if you want to be considered a major party, you ought to show that you have a little scale and a little bit of mass. I think that’s reasonable.”
Sen. Bill Seitz, the Cincinnati Republican and primary sponsor of SB 193, worked with former Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner a few years back on legislation to address the issue, but that deal never came to fruition.
Then Republicans took control of the Statehouse, and the topic was dropped.
Flash forward three years, after a contentious presidential election that included participation from candidates representing the Libertarian, Green, Constitution and Socialist parties, plus an independent and a handful of write-in candidates.
Out of the blue, Republican lawmakers decided something had to be done, post-haste, to fix state law and provide a constitutional process for minor parties to qualify for the ballot.
Proponents say the proposed law changes would give minor parties and candidates ample time to qualify for the November general election, with signature requirements that are a lot less stringent than those in place for Republicans and Democrats.
Opponents counter that the bill will prevent them from participating in next year’s primary, give them less time to campaign and potentially block them from future elections.
While there is a legitimate need for such legislation, the timing creates all sorts of perception problems. It looks as if Republicans are pushing a bill because they are worried about the impact minor parties could have on their re-election next year.
Libertarians and some Statehouse Democrats are calling the bill the John Kasich Re-election Protection Act. The former have promised to sue to ensure they have full access to the electorate.
And instead of debating the merits of the legislation, we’re left with a circus of partisan bickering over yet another issue, leaving voters scratching their heads and questioning the sanity of the people they’ve elected.
Marc Kovac is The Vindicator’s Statehouse correspondent.