Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Effect of Ohio's new ballot access law on 2014 election uncertain

On Nov 6, 2013, Gov. John Kasich signed into law new ballot access restrictions (S.B. 186) making it more difficult for minor parties to gain access to the ballot. The Libertarian Party of Ohio (LPO) has filed a lawsuit challenging the law on the grounds that it violates protected First Amendment rights.

Images-2The LPO also has argued that the new restrictions are aimed at bolstering Gov. John Kasich's (R) reelection campaign, and one Ohio scholar supports this view:

University of Akron political scientist David Cohen said Republicans pushed the bill through to help Kasich’s re-election chances by hamstringing Earl's campaign. Their fear, Cohen said, is that conservatives upset about Kasich's support of Medicade [sic] expansion would vote Libertarian instead, thus helping Democrat Ed FitzGerald’s chances.

“I think Governor Kasich and the Republicans know it’s a huge deal,” Cohen said. “They know that if it’s a two-person race, he wins.”

Reasons exist for suspecting the veracity of Professor Cohen's claim, particularly because the race appears to be tightening. The liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP) found in August that the race between incumbent Gov. Kasich and Democratic challenger Ed Fitzgerald had narrowed--with Fitzgerald narrowly leading 38 percent to 35 percent. Similarly, with the inclusion of Libertarian Party candidate Charlie Earl, PPP recently found that the race between Gov. Kasich and Fitzgerald is a virtual dead heat. Regardless, PPP has found Gov. Kasich's position to be less than comfortable.

Libertarians appear to believe that Republican support for recent ballot access restrictions could cost Republican candidates in 2014. On November 17, 2013, LPO state committee chairman Aaron Keith Harris wrote in a Plain-Dealer op-ed:

Because Libertarian party gubernatorial candidate Charlie Earl seems to be attracting many fiscal conservatives disgusted by Kasich's record on taxes, spending, and Obamacare/Medicare expansion, the Republican Party in the House and Senate decided to act to restrict voter choice.

The LPO now is actively recruiting candidates to challenge Republicans who supported the restrictions.

However, Gov. Kasich generally has enjoyed strong favorability ratings this year, and questions remain as to whether Democrats can generate the turnout necessary to defeat him.

The Ohio State Univeristy professor Paul Beck also doubts whether the new restrictions will dramatically affect Gov. Kasich's re-election chances. According to The Plain Dealer, he believes that "conservative voters would lump their displeasure with SB 193 in with their anger over Kasich’s push to expand Medicaid."

Further, Professor Beck is skeptical about the LPO's chances in court:

Ohio State University political science professor Paul Beck said he believes the Libertarians will lose their lawsuit, as courts tend to defer to legislative prerogative to set state ballot-access rules. But he said the party will likely submit enough petition signatures to regain official recognition.

Courts generally are deferential to legislative bodies when it comes to election law, but I question whether such deferrence makes good sense. While legislative bodies do have expertise in elections, they also are in a position to craft laws that will affect outcomes. As a result, majorities will almost always craft election laws that benefit their party--usually at the expense of voters. Perhaps less deferrence from courts could limit the attendant negative pressures of power.

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