A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked a controversial law that limits minor political parties’ access to the statewide ballot and ruled that the state must allow minor parties to participate in primary and general elections in 2014.
The law required minor parties to gather about 28,166 voter signatures by July to regain official recognition at the state level — a threshold that critics called unrealistic and burdensome for minor political parties — and disallowed minor parties from holding primary elections in 2014.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson concluded the requirements hurt minor parties that already filed for election before Kasich signed the law in November. He argued the law also unfairly prevented minor parties from reaping the political benefits of a primary election.
“The Ohio Legislature moved the proverbial goalpost in the midst of the game,” wrote Watson in a 28-page opinion. “Stripping plaintiffs of the opportunity to participate in the 2014 primary in these circumstances would be patently unfair.”
But in filing a temporary injunction, Watson acknowledged the law’s requirements could still stand for 2015 and beyond after the court hands down its final ruling at a later date. Watson merely agreed with minor parties that the law places too many retroactive limits in time for the 2014 election.
For now, the ruling comes as a major victory for the Libertarian Party of Ohio, which filed a legal complaint against the law after Gov. John Kasich and his fellow Republicans in the state legislature, including State Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, approved it.
Ohio Democrats and Libertarians took to calling the law the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act.” They argued the law defends Kasich from minor-party challengers dissatisfied with his record as governor, particularly his support for the Obamacare-funded Medicaid expansion.
Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, also backed the law. He is cited as the defendant in Watson’s opinion.
CityBeat could not immediately reach Husted’s office for comment.
Democrats quickly took advantage of Watson’s ruling to prop up Nina Turner, the Democratic candidate for secretary of state.
“Today, a federal court declared that Jon Husted’s attempt to put his political party over the rights of Ohio voters to have choices violated the constitutional rights of Ohioans. This is not the first time, either. This November, Ohioans can elect Nina Turner to bring needed change to the Ohio secretary of state’s office,” said Brian Hester, spokesperson for Ohio Democrats, in a statement.
Husted and Turner will likely face off in the November ballot. Watson’s ruling could make it easier for a minor-party candidate to enter the race as well.