Petition Challenge Could Leave Libertarians Without Candidate For Ohio Governor
The petitions of Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Charlie Earl and his running mate Sherry Clark are being challenged in two separate protests. The results of a pending hearing Tuesday could have a big impact on the race for governor between Republican governor John Kasich and his likely Democratic opponent Ed FitzGerald.
One lawsuit by Gregory A. Felsoci, from Rocky River, contends that Earl's petitions were "filed on part-petitions that are invalid as a matter of law."
The lawsuit states that once Husted excludes the petitions, Earl will lack the required 500 valid signatures from members of the Libertarian Party to qualify for the ballot.
The lawsuit also contends that some of the petition circulators did not disclose they were paid, and that one circulator generated nearly 45 percent of Earl's total signatures but their "credibility is open to question.”
A second lawsuit filed by Tyler King of Columbus accuses the Ohio Democratic Party of “organizing efforts to obtain the signatures necessary to assure that the Libertarian candidates were certified to the ballot.”
King charges that Libertarian petition circulators “were supervised, managed or otherwise organized by James Winnett, the LGBT Outreach Director of the Ohio Democratic Party, and Ian James, a long-time and well-respected leader of the Democratic Party in Ohio.”
"The two key, serious legal allegations are whether Ian James and the Democratic Party were involved with a registered sex offender to get these signatures to put Charlie on the ballot," said Republican strategist Terry Casey. "The other is if the laws of Ohio were fully and faithfully followed by the Libertarian Party."
Ohio Democratic strategists have told 10TV that they believe Earl could capture up to 5 percent of the statewide vote this November, much of it coming from Kasich.
Kasich opponents dismiss the lawsuits, claiming it is just an effort to eliminate challengers on the ballot.
"There is no doubt that the Kasich campaign fears the impact of the Libertarian Candidate," said Brian Rothenberg of the progressive think tank ProgressOhio. "The thing they can't avoid, are those voters fed up with these games that vote 'none of the above.' Either way it eats away at a slim 5-point lead and makes it more of a 3-point spread which is within the margin of polling error. It is tight either way."
Secretary of State Jon Husted has named Capital University law professor and former Federal Elections Commission member Brad Smith to serve as the hearing officer.
In addition to the challenge of Earl's petitions, another lawsuit challenges the petitions of Libertarian candidate for Attorney General Steven Linnabary.
Both hearings will be held Tuesday in Columbus. Smith will then present his findings to Husted.
Husted’s office tells 10TV that there is no timeline on how soon a decision will be made, but “it will be expedited so that county board of elections can make their plans.”
Libertarian Party spokesman Aaron Keith Harris was unavailable for comment.
Republican strategist Bob Clegg says the impact of Earl on the November race is not worrying the Kasich campaign.
"I don't think it will matter to Governor Kasich's re-election whether Charlie Earl is on the ballot," said Clegg. "However everyone on the ballot has to follow election law to be on it. If he hasn't, he shouldn't be allowed on the ballot."