The Buck stops here

LISBON -There will be one less candidate for state representative after the Columbiana County elections board voted Tuesday to reject the candidacy of Martin “Buck” Elsass because of a problem with how his petitions were filled out.

“It’s pretty clear,” the elections board director, Adam Booth, said of the state directive on which he based his recommendation that Elsass’ petitions be rejected.

Candidacy petitions include a section which advises the signers they should be of the same political party affiliation of the person circulating the petitions. In this section, Elsass identified the party affiliation as “unaffiliated” in all three of the petitions he circulated.

“There is no unaffiliated party in Ohio and it really should have said Libertarian,” Booth told the board. He said this point is critical because the people who sign petitions are saying they are members of the candidate’s party.

Elsass’ removal from the ballot clears the way for a rematch between Democratic incumbent Nick Barborak and Republican Craig Newbold, although anyone wanting to run for office as an independent can still do so. The filing deadline for independents is May 5.

Following the meeting, Elsass said his rejection was not entirely unexpected, adding, “You’re going to see a lot of Libertarians rejected this time.”

The conventional political wisdom is that the Libertarian Party tends to attract mostly disaffected Republicans who believe the GOP no longer represents what they believe. Libertarians are considered capable of drawing enough Republican votes in some three-way races to affect the outcome, or so the theory goes.

Barborak only won by 507 votes over Newbold in 2012. Elsass garnered 1,100 county votes when he ran for Congress as a Libertarian in 2010.

Elsass said there is a reason why a bill passed in November by the Republican-controlled state legislature, which made it tougher for Libertarian candidates to get on the ballot, “was nicknamed the John Kasich Re-Election Act.” The bill was later blocked by a federal judge, increasing the likelihood Ohio’s governor will face a third-party challenge this year from a Libertarian opponent.

Elsass will confer with the state party to determine whether to mount a legal challenge since they expected something like this would happen with Libertarian candidates.

“I was the first one to file and the first one to get thrown off the ballot as far as I know,” he said.

Booth based his recommendation on a directive on ballot access for minor political parties issued to election boards by Ohio Secretary of State John Husted in January 2013. The directive said petition signers “must declare that he or she is a member of the political party of the candidate.”

Since Elsass’ petitions mistakenly listed his political party as “unaffiliated,” the signers were saying they are members of the unaffiliated party, and there is no such thing, he said.

Booth noted this directive was available when Elsass filed his candidacy petitions last October.

Elsass, who noted the top of his petition clearly identifies him as a Libertarian, argued that he wrote down “unaffiliated” as the party because the majority of those eligible to sign his petitions were unaffiliated with any of the political parties.

“They have to either be Libertarian or unaffiliated to sign my petitions, and there are only 11 (registered) Libertarians in the county,” he said.

Don Robart, the new regional liaison assigned to the county by the secretary of state, happened to be attending the meeting. Robart said he is a Republican but has had Democrats and independent voters sign his petitions. “So what’s the difference?” he asked.

Booth referred again to the directive and noted those who signed Elsass’ petitions were saying they are members of the unaffiliated party instead of Libertarians. He also pointed out that Libertarians running for the party’s state central committee filled out their petitions properly by listing their party as Libertarian.

Board members, both Democrat and Republican, said they were required to follow the directive, although board president Patty Colian, a Democrat, said she would have preferred a legal opinion. Booth said the secretary of state’s office no longer provides legal advice and instead refers boards to the appropriate directive, if there is one.

Colian then suggested they obtain a legal opinion from the county prosecutor’s office, but Booth said Tuesday was the last day under the law to certify candidacy petitions for placement on the May 6 primary election ballot.

“I don’t know that we have any recourse but to follow the directive,” he said. “We’ve always erred on the side of allowing people on the ballot when there is a gray area,” but this is not one of those times.

Board member Jim Beardsley, a Republican, denied politics played any role in the decision. “We’re not here to prevent anyone from running … When we come in this office we all want one thing” and that is the fair administration of the election laws, he said.

Meanwhile, the board certified the petitions of all other candidates, as well as ballot issues, for placement on the May primary election ballot.