Senate Bill 193 – Establishing and Determining Status of Minor Political Parties

Senate Bill 193, offered by Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), revises the methods and standards for determining whether an organization qualifies as a political party under Ohio law. This bill comes out of the confusion felt by “intermediate” political parties following the Sixth Circuit Court’s 2006 decision in Libertarian Party of Ohio v. Blackwell, 462 F.3d 579, in which the Court found that the standards in the Ohio Revised Code were unconstitutional as applied to minor political parties. The goal of Senate Bill 193 is to specify new standards that will pass constitutional review.

The new law will require a group seeking to form a new political party to submit a party formation petition signed by qualified electors equal in number to at least one percent of the total vote for governor or nominees for presidential electors at the most recent election for such office. In addition, the petition must be signed by no fewer than 500 qualified electors from each of at least one-half of the Congressional districts in the state. However, for the 2014 general election, the percentage requirement is decreased to 0.5 percent of the total vote for nominees for presidential electors in the 2012 general election.

To remain a political party after formation under Senate Bill 193, the new party’s candidate for governor or nominees for presidential electors must receive at least three percent of the entire vote cast for that office in the most recent regular state election.

Because Senate Bill 193 was introduced and considered so close to the 2014 election, the legislature decided to delay the implementation of the new thresholds, above, until 2016 and set different standards specifically for the 2014 election. For the 2014 general election, the percentage requirement for a group seeking to form a new political party is decreased to 0.5 percent of the total vote for nominees for presidential electors in the 2012 election. For a minor party already in existence to remain a political party, the percentage of the entire vote cast required is decreased to two percent. If that threshold is met, the party will remain a political party for the following four years.

Senate Bill 193 was signed by the Governor on November 6, 2013 and will become effective in February 5, 2014.

Litigation Note: Two days after Governor Kasich signed Senate Bill 193, the Libertarian Party of Ohio amended a previously-filed federal lawsuit challenging provisions of Senate Bill 193 that would revoke the party’s qualified status for 2014. In addition, the party is requesting a preliminary injunction to retain its May 2014 primary election. The case is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

Senate Bill 205 – Mailing Absent Voter Ballots

Introduced by Senator Bill Coley (R-Liberty Township), Senate Bill 205 revises Ohio’s laws with respect to absentee ballots. The bill would allow the secretary of state to mail unsolicited applications for absentee ballots only for a general election and only if the General Assembly has made an appropriation for that mailing; however, the bill does make an exception for the 2014 general election, allowing the secretary of state to mail the applications regardless of an appropriation. In addition, the bill prohibits any other public official or employee, acting in his or her official capacity, from mailing unsolicited applications. The bill also prohibits an election official from filling out any portion of the application or return envelope on behalf of the voter, but does allow a board of elections to preprint the voter’s name and address on the identification envelope.

In addition to the administration of absentee ballot applications, the bill also changes some laws with respect to challenging ballots. Senate Bill 205 would allow an election official to challenge a person’s right to vote if the identification statement of the voter is incomplete. In the event that the statement accompanying an absent voter’s ballot is incomplete or insufficient, under Senate Bill 205, the vote may not be accepted or counted.

Senate Bill 205 was voted on by the Ohio Senate on November 6, 2013, and passed with a vote of 22-11. It was introduced in the House on November 7, 2013, and is currently pending before the House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee.

Senate Bill 109 – Election Administration

Senate Bill 109 was introduced by Senator Larry Obhof (R-Medina) and makes changes to election administration. The bill would require the secretary of state to adopt rules and procedures for determining when a board of elections should be placed under official oversight, the standards for that oversight by the secretary of state, and the procedure to transition out of official oversight. The bill also makes changes to the appointment of precinct election officials (formerly called “judges of election”) and new members to boards of election. In addition, the legislation would require a political subdivision or other entity to certify ballot questions of issues to the board of elections in paper form and prohibits electronic submission. The bill also refers to electronic poll books and authorizes the Board of Voting Machine Examiners to test, and the secretary of state to certify electronic poll books being used in Ohio.

Senate Bill 109 was passed by the Senate 23-10 and by the House 66-28. Senate Bill 109 was signed by the governor on November 26, 2013, and will become effective February 24, 2014.