An Inconvenient Democracy: Minor Parties would “Overcrowd Ballot”

March 23, 2015

Federal Judge Michael Watson, fearing democracy might break out in Ohio, upheld a Republican state law that makes it virtually impossible for minor parties to get on the ballot. Judge Watson sided with Ohio's Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, who argued that if minor political parties were treated as they are in other democracies, it would add "additional cost" and would reduce “the risk of overcrowded ballots and frivolous candidates."

The United States, recently rated last in election integrity among the world's 76 long-standing democracies, is the only democracy that has a two-party system. America's two-party system is often referred to as "American Exceptionalism." Every other democracy has three or more political parties.

The Green Party of Ohio stands alone as the only ballot-qualified minor party in the Buckeye State. The Libertarian, Constitution, and Socialist Parties will need to gather at least 30,560 valid signatures just to return to official party status in Ohio. Additionally, out of the over 30,000 valid signatures, there must be 500 each from half of Ohio's 16 Congressional districts.

In a ruling by Judge Michael Watson on March 16, the court upheld a Republican-backed 2013 election law that imposed restrictive ballot standards for Ohio's minor parties. The law in question, SB 193, holds minor parties to a much higher signature requirement than the major parties. Another provision of the law is that a party must receive 3 percent of the vote in every statewide election.

Democrats and Republicans are automatically on the ballot under the law because they have received over 3 percent of the vote in a statewide election. The Green Party, because it received 3.37 percent of the vote in the 2014 election, needs no signatures to continue to be on the ballot.

Judge Watson rejected arguments from American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorneys for the Green and Constitution Parties. The ACLU argued that the ballot access law violated both the First Amendment rights of free association and 14th Amendment rights of equal protection and due process.

Judge Watson found that minor parties’ claims -- that they would be severely burdened by being forced to gather so many signatures in a short period of time prior to a primary election -- were not valid.

Under Ohio law, in order to become a member of a political party, a voter must participate in a primary election to declare their party preference. Hence, SB 193 may completely destroy all minor parties in Ohio if they cannot get their candidates on the primary ballot.

For example, in order for the Libertarian Party to run a candidate on the ballot in the 2016 primary, it must submit the 30,560 valid signatures by December 9, 2015. Attorney Mark Brown, representing the Libertarian Party, pointed this out to Judge Watson. He noted that the Ohio Constitution requires political parties to nominate candidates through a primary vote.

The court refused to consider this clause of the Ohio Constitution in its decision, and failed to discuss the fact that the only way a minor party can grow its members is by having candidates run in a primary election. The federal court in Columbus has chosen to destroy political parties rather than inconvenience the Secretary of State.

~ Bob Fitrakis serves as Federal Elections Commission Chair at the Green Shadow Cabinet