Third-Party Candidate Ends OH-4 Campaign After Contractor Presents Invalid Signatures

Chris Gibbs, an Independent candidate running for US Congress in Ohio’s 4th district, announced on May 17 that he is suspending his campaign. The announcement came after the Lorain County Board of Elections determined he did not collect the requisite number of signatures to appear on the November ballot. 

Last spring, Gibbs announced that he would run as an Independent against Republican Representative Jim Jordan, a vocal supporter of the president and a founder of the far-right House Freedom Caucus. Gibbs voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election but grew dissatisfied with Trump’s policies over the last few years. As a farmer, Gibbs is especially frustrated with Trump’s trade war with China, which has damaged the livelihoods of farmers across the United States. 

In a Facebook Live video on May 17,  Gibbs explained the circumstances that compelled him to end his bid. For his name to appear on the November ballot as an independent, Gibbs needed to collect 2,458 signatures from eligible voters in the district by the March filing date. The campaign solicited two paid circulators who committed to collecting 4,000–5,000 signatures. 

One contractor claimed to have collected 1,300 signatures but presented zero signatures on the filing date. The other contractor collected and presented around 2,000 signatures, a majority of which were invalid. The latter contractor is now under investigation for fraud, as at least six of the signatures collected came from deceased voters. Gibbs says he will wait until the end of the investigation before deciding whether or not to pursue civil action against the contractor. 

“I’m certainly very disappointed, but I’m not disappointed for myself,” Gibbs said. “I’m disappointed for my supporters, my volunteers, and those people who have supported me verbally, and also those folks who have supported me financially as well. I feel like I let those people down, and I feel bad about that. … I won’t be able to represent their interests.”

Democrats and Republicans filing to run for office need to obtain only 50 signatures. The extra burden for Independents to collect signatures often acts as a deterrent to third party bids. 

“This disparity in signature requirements perpetuates a two-party system that is hyperpolarized and contributes to some of the gridlock we see in D.C.,” rising College fourth-year Ilana Foggle, who has been involved in multiple campaigns in the district, wrote in an email to the Review. “My personal political beliefs may not have aligned with Gibbs’ policy stances. Still, I believe Gibbs should have been on the ballot.”

Moving forward, Gibbs says that he plans to remain involved in politics and advocate for representation for Ohio’s fourth congressional district. Although he does not plan to endorse another candidate at this time, his number one priority remains unseating Jordan. 

“I feel that this district has been underrepresented, and whatever I can do to ensure that this district continues to get represented, I will do that,” Gibbs said. “That includes — and I need to be very clear — whatever it takes to get Jim Jordan removed from office through the ballot, I will do, I will assist. As far as additional runs for office … we will see what happens.”

In the November election, Democrat Shannon Freshour and Libertarian Steve Perkins will appear on the ballot against Jordan. 

Some of Freshour’s supporters had pinned their hopes on Gibbs’ campaign, optimistic that a third-party candidate would split the Republican vote between Jordan and Gibbs, leaving space for Freshour to obtain a plurality. In the last three elections, Democratic candidate Janet Garrett failed to gain more than 40 percent of the votes due to extensive gerrymandering in the district. 

Freshour said that she was not counting on Gibbs being in the race and remains focused on beating Jordan in the general election. 

“This is still going to be a real fight between Democrats and Republicans and figuring out where we are,” Freshour said. “Although I didn’t have a problem with Chris. It would have been interesting to have him in the race. I’m sorry that technicalities are the reason he is not able to run.”

Still, some supporters do believe that Gibbs’ exit from the race creates additional challenges for Freshour.

“Gibbs’ candidacy was important because, as a former Republican, he would be able to split up the Republican vote and pull votes from Jim Jordan, opening a pathway for a Democratic victory in the district,” Foggle wrote. “Without his candidacy, I believe that the path to victory for Shannon Freshour is more challenging. Not impossible … just going to be an uphill battle.”

An additional challenge for the candidates running will be the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ohio House recently passed HB 680, which rolls back absentee ballot access and removes in-person early voting. The bill was originally aimed at addressing voting amidst crisis and comes after the state faced challenges when the initial COVID-19 outbreak delayed the March primary. 

Critics of the new bill note it bars public officials from moving voting dates, shortens the time to request an absentee ballot by seven days, and prevents the secretary of state from using prepaid postage on absentee ballots. As of June 10, the bill must still pass the Ohio Senate and be signed into law by Ohio governor Mike DeWine before going into effect.