Editor’s Note: This testimony was given today at the Ohio Statehouse following the committee session. The bill was passed out of committee with minor changes, none addressing the issues raised in this testimony. It was then reported to the Ohio Senate where it was quickly passed as an emergency measure.
Comments of Bob Fitrakis, Ohio Green Party Co-Chair
State Government and Oversight and Reform Committee regarding SB 193
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Honorable Chairman and members of the Oversight and Reform Committee Usually reform is taken and oversight required when there is an actual problem. There is nothing wrong with the status quo regarding political parties in Ohio. State such as Florida, Vermont and Mississippi allow political parties on the ballot without petitions. They are not plagued by crowded ballots. Others like Idaho require a political party to file a petition, but once filed, the party remains as long it runs at least three candidates every even numbered state election year. South Carolina similarly requires a petition, but once a party is on the ballot it stays on if it runs just one candidate every four years.

The first major problem with Senate Bill 193 is the requirement that minor parties must get 3% of the vote in a statewide election every two years to stay on the ballot. The median vote test in the nation for a party to remain on the ballot for those states that require it, is 2%. SB 193 requires 3%. Ohio’s northern neighbor, Michigan, for example, only requires 1%.

The second problem is requiring a newly qualifying party to submit both a petition for the Party and then separate petitions for each of it nominees. SB 193’s requirement for 2014 of 55,809 valid signatures is a massive barrier for any minor party. Then requiring the Party nominees to submit additional petitions is an added difficulty. Clearly any minor party that submits 55,809 valid signatures has demonstrated support for their nominees and should be able to nominate by convention.

Maryland once had a similar policy of both party and nominee petitions for a newly qualifying party. This was declared unconstitutional in Maryland Green Party v. Maryland State Board of Education in 2003. There is no state that now requires a newly qualifying party to both qualify as a party and then separately nominate all its candidates.

The third problem is that the wording on the petition to qualify a new party under existing Ohio law makes the petition even more difficult, which now requires singers of the petition to “declare their intention of organizing a political party.” The reform needed here in SB 193 is to change the existing law so that signers of the petition are signing to show their desire to list a minor party on the ballot.

The fourth problem is that SB 193 is written in such a way that it requires minor parties to run a presidential candidate, when many minor parties have been historically content to run only state and local candidates. One example is the Human Rights Party in Michigan, which elected City Council members in both Ann Arbor and East Lansing. Other examples are the Minnesota Independence Party, the Non-Partisan League of North Dakota, and the Farm Labor Parties active in some states.

The fifth problem is the requirement that the newly qualifying party list all of its nominees on the petition, months before the major parties choose their candidates. For a minor party to get the required 55,000 signatures by June 2, 2014, means the party must hold a nominating convention much earlier than the two major parties. It is likely to take at least six months for any minor party to gather such a massive valid signature total.

Moreover, SB 193 appears to violate due process, rights of association, as well as functioning as an ex post facto law. In essence, SB 193 would throw minor parties off the ballot in Ohio for not meeting a test that was not in place in 2012. Had the Green Party or Libertarian Party had been aware of this unforeseen future requirement, they could have adjusted their resources and attempted to meet the future standard.

Of course, let me reiterate, there was no standard in existence and this bill will punished the Green Party and its supporters for not meeting a standard that did not exist. What does that mean in real terms? You will be moving the Green Party label from two elected officials, Brian Cummins, City Council member in Cleveland Ward 14 and Dennis Spisak, Struthers School Board member. In the 2010 gubernatorial election in Ohio, 58,475 people voted Green for governor. In just 12 Ohio counties you will be disenfranchising 1363 registered Greens. In 2012, in just three of Ohio’s 16 Congressional districts, 26,071 Ohioans voted Green, including 6388 in Franklin County’s third district and 13,038 (3.84% of the vote) in the 14th Congressional district.

The irony is that this effort is being led by the Republican Party, the most successful third party in U.S. history that grew from minor parties in the Midwest like the Abolitionist and Free Soil Parties.

There is no problem to fix in Ohio by passing Senate Bill 193. Political choice and democracy are not problems for the people of Ohio.