Judge won't order Libertarian back on Ohio ballot

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A federal judge on Wednesday denied an effort by the Libertarian Party of Ohio to get its gubernatorial candidate back on the ballot for the May primary.

Attorneys for candidate Charlie Earl and the Libertarian Party immediately requested a stay of that ruling and indicated they would appeal U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson's decision to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

Earl's candidacy would have the potential to draw votes from Republican Gov. John Kasich as the incumbent faces likely Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive.

Ohio's elections chief, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, had disqualified Earl and the Libertarian candidate for attorney general, Steven Linnabary, after their nominating petitions were challenged on two grounds: that signature gatherers failed to comply with Ohio laws requiring them to be either Libertarian or political independents and another requiring them to disclose their employer.

Husted agreed with a hearing officer who found that two Earl petitioners failed to properly disclose their employers.

Libertarians sought to reinstate Earl's ballot status, arguing that Husted's ruling violated petition circulators' First Amendment rights and conflicted with previous state rulings allowing them to submit signatures without declaring an employer.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson ruled against the request, concluding that the law challenged by the party "places only a minimal burden on political speech and the disclosures it requires are substantially related to Ohio's significant interest in deterring and detecting fraud in the candidate petition process."

Attorneys for Earl and the Libertarian Party plan to appeal.

"While we respect Judge Watson's decision, we believe the First Amendment protects circulators from having to wear the source of their payment on their sleeves," one of the attorneys, Mark Kafantaris, said in an email.

A statement from the secretary of state's office said Watson's ruling upholds Husted's decision "to follow state law" and invalidate the petitions.