By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Libertarian Party candidates for Ohio governor and attorney general are challenging rulings by a Republican secretary of state that would keep their names off the ballot in a state primary in May, attorneys said Monday.
Secretary of State Jon Husted on Friday ordered the names of gubernatorial candidate Charlie Earl and attorney general candidate Steven Linnabary pulled from the ballot, finding their petitions did not meet Ohio elections standards.
Linnabary asked Ohio's Supreme Court on Monday to overrule Husted, while Earl has a separate appeal pending in federal court. A hearing on Earl's request is set for Tuesday.
"Anyone who cares about free and fair elections ought to be alarmed by Secretary Husted's decision kicking Steve Linnabary and other Libertarian candidates off the primary ballot," said Mark Kafantaris, an attorney for the Libertarian Party of Ohio.
The candidates possibly could pull votes from Republican incumbents, Governor John Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine, in the November election. Kasich has come under fire from some conservatives for his perceived support of Obamacare by expanding Medicaid in the state.
A hearing officer, Brad Smith, determined that petitioners who gathered signatures for Linnabary and Earl did not follow state requirements that they be registered with the Libertarian party or be unaffiliated voters.
Smith also found petitioners failed to properly disclose the signature gatherer's employer on the petitions.
"They are making it so difficult on circulators to collect," said attorney Mark Brown, who represents the party in the federal challenge. "It is bullying. These are valid signatures but they (Republicans) always find a technicality."
Brown said the decision to strike the candidates from the ballot violates their free speech and due process rights.
In January, U.S. District Judge Michael Watson ruled that Husted could not enforce a new Ohio law approved by the state's Republican-majority legislature that expands requirements for ballot approval.
Watson said the state could not enforce the law in 2014 because it "moves the goal posts in the midst of the game."
(Editing by Brendan O'Brien and Cynthia Osterman)