Libertarians filed for the five statewide executive offices this year – but only two had enough valid signatures. And protests have been filed against both of them that could get them tossed off the ballot entirely. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler sat in on a hearing on one of those protests.
At issue is whether the signatures that got Charlie Earl into the governor’s race are valid.
John Zeiger is the lawyer for those who protest Earl’s presence on the ballot. He says those who gathered signatures for Libertarians need to be Libertarian Party members.
“Each separate petition paper shall – again the mandatory word 'shall' – be circulated by a – quote – member of the same political party as, in this case, the joint candidates for governor and lieutenant governor," Zeiger said.
As the hearing continued, the quality of the audio got worse, as Zeiger said that not only were people who collected signatures for Libertarians not Libertarians, but that they were actually Democrats who wanted a candidate to siphon votes from Republican incumbent Gov. John Kasich.
“The money that is funding this effort to go out and get these additional signatures came from Democratic sources, that admittedly organized and managed the effort of obtaining additional signatures to make sure that the Libertarian candidates were on the ballot," Zeiger said.
Zeiger tried to connect the contractors hired to collect signatures for Libertarians to the Ohio Democratic Party, noting that Libertarians were working with a law firm connected with Democrats and with the group that’s pushing the same-sex marriage amendment that could be on the fall ballot as well.
But the lawyer for the Libertarians said that circulators for the party don’t have to be Libertarians. Mark Brown spoke during a break in the hearing.
“If you’ve not voted in another party’s primary in the preceding two calendar years,Ohio law says you are allowed to circulate petitions for the party," Brown said. "And Ohio law also says circulators need not disclose the simple fact that they were paid.”
And Brown says there’s nothing illegal about Democrats being paid to help Libertarians.
"It’s just all bluff and bluster," he said. "It’s for your consumption is what it is – it’s for the press, because they’re trying to paste Charlie and the other Libertarians as being somehow tainted by the Democrats.”
Asked whether the Ohio Democratic Party helped with the efford, Brown said, “I have no idea.”
Libertarian Party of Ohio political director Bob Bridges admitted that they’d gotten help from the group Freedom to Marry, but also said that Libertarians had helped Freedom to Marry gather signatures for its same-sex marriage amendment.
Libertarian Party chair Kevin Knedler said he’d had breakfast with Ohio Democratic Party chair Chris Redfern, but added he would been happy to have sat down with the head of the Ohio Republican Party too.
Charlie Earl was in the room during the hearing – he’d been subpoenaed, but wasn’t called to testify. Earl, a former Republican state lawmaker, said after the hearing that he felt it was being claimed that only Democrats were supporting him – which he says isn’t true. And he says he and Steve Linnabary, the Libertarian in the attorney general’s race, are holding firm.
“I told Steve Linnabary today, their goal is to keep us in court till Nov. 4," Earl said. "I mean, I understand it. And that’s one of the reasons I became a Libertarian. I got tired of the crap and felt it was time that the people had a voice and we stand up there and say, ‘We believe in liberty. We believe in constitutional government. Let’s get rid of all this other stuff.'”
Earl says if his signatures are tossed out and he can’t be on the ballot, he’ll bow out if he feels there’s no recourse. But he also says he’ll continue to campaign even if he’s not in the governor’s race.
The two Libertarians who testified, Bridges and Knedler, have been certified as write-in candidates in the races for auditor and secretary of state. The secretary of state’s office says it hopes to have a decision by Friday on whether Earl and Linnabary will be on the ballot, but there’s no guarantee on that timeline.