- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The Green Party’s candidate for Ohio governor was handily defeated in Tuesday’s election, but the party still has something to celebrate.

Unofficial election results show the Greens met new standards to qualify as a minor political party in the swing state.

The designation allows the political group to bypass a time-consuming process of gathering signatures to qualify as a minor party.

Ohio’s new third-party rules are being challenged in federal court. But under current state law, minor parties get automatic ballot status for four years by winning 2 percent of the vote this year, or 3 percent in future elections.

Green Party gubernatorial candidate Anita Rios won 3.3 percent in Tuesday’s contest.

Rios and her running mate, Bob Fitrakis, were the only top-of-the-ticket third party contenders. A federal judge kept two disqualified Libertarians from the fall ballot, including gubernatorial candidate Charlie Earl.

That means - unless the court steps in - Libertarians will have to gather roughly 30,000 signatures and meet other rules to be recognized as a minor political party in 2016. To achieve party status for four years after that, its presidential candidate would have to get 3 percent of the vote.

In 2012, Libertarian presidential contender Gary Johnson garnered 0.9 percent, or 49,493 votes.

Despite differing political views, the Greens and Libertarians want the Ohio law to be overturned.

“While we’re on the ballot, we’re not going to rest until the Libertarian Party is returned to the ballot to its rightful place for voters to consider,” Fitrakis said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “They have significant support in this state.”

That promises to be an uphill climb, said Kevin Knedler, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Ohio and the party’s 2014 secretary of state candidate.

“It’s a quagmire right now, and nobody knows what to tell our candidates because it’s tied up in court,” he said. He said the only upside of 2014 was that voter turnout was low, since that’s what determines how many signatures must be collected.

Libertarian candidates for two statewide offices approached 5 percent in their races, according to unofficial results. Also, Constitution Party candidate Jim Condit topped 5 percent as he sought to unseat Republican House Speaker John Boehner in his western Ohio congressional district.

The new minor-party rules came last year as Republicans who dominate the Ohio Legislature faced growing competition from tea party supporters who had said they may back a third-party challenger to Republican Gov. John Kasich.

Opponents of the law have called it the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act.” Backers of the measure have disputed the characterization, saying the requirements were long overdue.

Ohio’s previous law was deemed unconstitutional by a federal appeals court in 2006. Since then, election officials have continued to recognize the third parties in existence at the time of the ruling because there was no law to enforce.

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