The Libertarian presidential ticket of Gary Johnson and William Weld looks likely to appear on Ohio's presidential ballot, a lucky break for a campaign that is aiming to be available to voters in all 50 states. At the same time, the ticket seems less likely to win access to the televised presidential debates, as newly released standards suggest that they will have trouble crossing the polling threshold.
Since a Republican-led change was approved in 2012, Ohio has required that third parties obtain signatures equal to 1 percent of the previous presidential or gubernatorial vote in order to appear on the ballot. In 2016, that would have meant that Libertarians and the Green Party each collect around 56,000 signatures. Libertarians opted instead to get a ballot line for two local activists, as independents — with a 5,000-signature requirement.
As first reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Libertarians persuaded Ohio's secretary of state to allow a placeholder candidate to remove his name from the ballot so that Johnson and Weld could be swapped in. The Libertarians turned in more than 12,000 signatures, making it possible for them to appear on the ballot even if more than half the signatures do not survive a challenge.
But the Johnson-Weld goal of winning approval by the Commission on Presidential Debates — something no third party has achieved since 1992 — looked more remote when the CPD released its standards. To get on the stage, presidential hopefuls must exceed an average of 15 percent in five polls, from the Washington Post-ABC News, CBS-New York Times, Fox News, CNN-ORC and NBC-Wall Street Journal.
To reach the 14.5 percent average that would get them onstage — the CPD has suggested that it will round up if a third-party candidate comes close to the magic number — the Johnson-Weld ticket would need to increase its support substantially. The most recent polls from the specified outfits put the Libertarians at 8, 10, 9, 12 and 8 percent, respectively, for an average of 9.4 percent support.
More ominously for the Libertarians, the CBS-NYT and CNN-ORC polls that show Johnson in double digits do not include the name of Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential nominee who is getting more exposure this week with a CNN "town hall" special. No poll has asked voters about Evan McMullin, the former Hill staffer now running as a conservative conscience candidate, with severely limited ballot access. But the cluster of the three third-party candidates is preventing any of them from closing in on the debates.