July 16, 2006
OH-15: Blackwell denies conservative independent challenge

(Crossposted at the Daily Kos.)

Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell (he of the notorious election irregularities) has refused to allow conservative challenger Charlie Morrison to get on the November ballot of Ohio's 15th district as an independent (here is Morrison's brief). His decision will almost certainly help his Republican party ally, the incumbent Deborah Pryce, who very likely would have lost votes to Morrison. Mary Jo Kilroy, the Democratic challenger, has issued a statement saying: "It's a shame that Democracy was denied to Charles Morrison by Ken Blackwell and the Republican Party. It raises the question, what are Deborah Pryce and Ohio Republicans so afraid of?" (See my earlier post on the subject.)

Blackwell's ruling says that he "has always publicly advocated for more access to the ballot" and that Morrison's challenge raises an "otherwise convincing rationale", but nevertheless concludes that his candidacy does not satisfy the legal requirements for an independent run, because he voted in the Republican primary and ran (unsuccessfully) for state and local offices in the party.

The OH-15 race has been described as one of the most significant under-the-radar contests this year, and Pryce may be in danger of being knocked off by Kilroy after seven terms. Kilroy is on the DCCC's Red to Blue list of promising Democratic challengers in this year's House elections. Morrison is a conservative who has challenged Pryce in the primaries, and would likely draw votes away from her in a three-way race.

Morrison has taken hard-right conservative positions that Blackwell supports; and Blackwell himself was allowed on the ballot in 1984 by former Secretary of State Sherrod Brown, now the Democratic nominee for Senator from Ohio, under very similar circumstances (as discussed in my prior post). Moreover, Blackwell certified independent Robert Fitrakis in the Ohio election for governor this year, the same race in which Blackwell himself is running, and although Fitrakis is known to have voted in the Republican primary, just as Morrison did, no one has challenged his independent candidacy. So the question has been whether Blackwell would rule in this case on substantive legal grounds, granting others the same deference from which he himself has benefited, or would he just act to help a Republican candidate in trouble.

Blackwell's ruling says:

The positions set out in favor of the proposition raise an otherwise convincing rationale for access to the ballot. Secretary Blackwell has always publicly advocated for more access to the ballot. Were this merely an issue of access, the proponents of Mr. Morrison's position on this matter would no doubt be more convincing.

Nevertheless, he rules against Morrison, basing his decision on §3501.01 section (I) of the Ohio Revised Code, which defines an "independent candidate" as "any candidate who claims not to be affiliated with a political party". Morrison voted in the Republican primary on May 2nd, after filing a petition to run as an independent on May 1st. Also, he ran for positions in state and local Republican party committees. Blackwell says that the law requires him to "claim" non-affiliation with the party; that is, that he had to make some kind of "affirmative statement" or "definitive representation". He concludes that "the law and the facts show that Mr. Morrison was never truly independent at any point relevant to this matter."

Charlie Morrison has previously promised a court challenge if his petition is denied. Right now his web site doesn't say anything about what he'll do next.

There is a rule in effect in Ohio preventing a candidate from switching from one party to the other within two years; and voting in a primary is taken as establishing affiliation with a party. My questions about Blackwell's ruling are:

Connecticut law is surely different from Ohio law, but if this same rationale would hold there, wouldn't it mean that Joe Lieberman can't run as an independent? After all, Lieberman will presumably vote in the Democratic primary; as a matter of fact, he's running in it. If Morrison can't run as an independent, why should Lieberman be able to?

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