COLUMBUS, Ohio — Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson can appear on Ohio ballots this fall as long as the candidate he’s replacing has met certain signature requirements, the state’s elections chief said Monday.
Libertarians submitted thousands of signatures last week on behalf of Charlie Earl, who unsuccessfully ran for Ohio governor in 2014. They had said Earl was just a stand-in who would be replaced with Johnson and his running mate.
On Monday, Libertarians filed the paperwork to make the name-swap official.
Jon Husted, Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State, said he intends to allow the switch, as long as elections boards can validate at least 5,000 signatures from Earl’s petitions. Local elections officials have a Friday deadline to verify those signors.
“The law being unclear, Secretary Husted believes the spirit of ballot access should prevail,” his office said in a statement Monday.
Whether Johnson’s successful in getting on the ballot could make a difference to Republicans, particularly the fortunes of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who is in a close race in the state with Democrat Hillary Clinton. Johnson could complicate the Ohio race for Trump if conservatives who want a smaller government want a choice other than the celebrity billionaire.
Libertarians are not recognized as a political party in Ohio, so activists sought to collect enough signatures to get Johnson on the ballot by way of a process for independent candidates.
It had been uncertain whether the Libertarians could switch the candidates.
Ohio law does not explicitly say whether a candidate can withdraw from the ballot and be replaced by another before his or her candidacy is validated, according to Husted’s office.
But Libertarians say its presidential tickets have used the practice in the past, most recently in 2004.
“Because of this story, voters across the country have become even more aware of Ohio’s anti-voter policies, and we’ve been raising money hand-over-fist all week,” said Aaron Keith Harris, a spokesman for the Libertarian Party of Ohio.
Such stand-in candidates are not uncommon, given the various petition deadlines and ballot access rules across states, says Carla Howell, the national Libertarian Party’s political director. She said she’s a placeholder in four states.
If Johnson and running mate William Weld make the Ohio ballot, they’ll appear without the party’s label.
Ohio’s Republican-led state legislature passed tougher rules for minor political parties in 2013, as the GOP faced growing competition from the tea party.
Libertarians have fought the changes in state and federal court for years. They maintain the law effectively eliminated all minor-party candidates from 2014 primary ballots and unfairly disadvantaged third parties going forward.
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and running mate Ajamu Baraka are set appear on Ohio’s ballot with their party’s affiliation.