COLUMBUS, Ohio — While Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson is set to appear on ballots in at least 39 states, swing state Ohio is among the places where his supporters are still working to get his name out to voters this fall.
The ballot status of the former New Mexico governor in Ohio was uncertain Wednesday — a day after Libertarians submitted thousands of signatures on behalf of a different candidate. Party activists say the candidate on the paperwork, Charlie Earl, who ran for Ohio governor in 2014, is just a stand-in who will be replaced with Johnson and his running mate once the petitions are certified by the state’s elections chief.
“That was the only way we could do it,” said Aaron Keith Harris, a spokesman for the Libertarian Party of Ohio. Libertarians also used a placeholder name in Pennsylvania, another battleground state.
Libertarians are not recognized as a political party in Ohio, so activists sought to collect at least 5,000 valid signatures from voters by Wednesday’s deadline to get Johnson on the fall ballot by way of a process for independent candidates. Elections officials must now verify the signors.
But the secretary of state’s office said it’s not seen a name-swap used before in the presidential race in Ohio, and its legal team will review the situation.
Given the various petition deadlines and ballot access rules across states, such placeholder candidates are common, said Carla Howell, the national Libertarian Party’s political director. She said she’s a stand-in candidate in four states.
Johnson is on track to be on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Howell said, noting Ohio has been “one of the worst” states for access. The ballot effort is still ongoing in other battlegrounds, including Iowa and Virginia.
Appearing on ballots nationwide is a major challenge for the third parties. The Libertarian nominee wasn’t on all state ballots in 2012, 2008 or 2004.
Third party candidates can draw votes from major party candidates, potentially impactful in a crucial battleground state like Ohio. No Republican has ever made it to the White House without winning the state.
A serious hurdle for Libertarians and other minor parties is a patchwork of rules and laws nationwide governing access to ballots. “It’s the number one problem that third party candidates face,” said Barry Burden, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and director of the Elections Research Center.
In Massachusetts, Libertarian vice presidential nominee William Weld hand-delivered the signatures needed to guarantee his name and Johnson’s as November candidates. Though candidates in major parties also must meet a signature threshold there. In Oklahoma, Libertarians are now a recognized political party allowing candidates to run at all levels without signatures drives.
Even if Johnson and Weld make Ohio’s ballot, both would lack the party’s label or any designation. They are expected to be identified as independents rather than Libertarians in at least a couple states.
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and running mate Ajamu Baraka are slated to appear on ballots in at least 27 states, according to their party. They’ve filed their paperwork to get on Ohio’s ballot.
Johnson and Stein are running in the single digits among voters in battleground Ohio, according a Quinnipiac University poll published Tuesday. The survey found Clinton at 44 percent to Trump’s 42 percent, with Johnson at 8 percent and Stein at 3 percent.
A July Associated Press-GfK poll found both Stein and Johnson remain virtual unknowns among Americans, with 76 percent saying they don’t know enough about Johnson to have a favorable or unfavorable opinion and 82 percent saying the same about Stein.
The Republican-led state legislature in Ohio passed tougher rules for minor political parties in 2013, as the GOP faced growing competition from the tea party.
Ohio 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.