Petitioner for Nader usually rebuffed

Voters' responses run from pleasant to testy

July 31, 2004|By Jen DeGregorio | Jen DeGregorio,SUN STAFF

Matthew Zawisky marched along Chesapeake Avenue in front of the Towson Library one morning last week, tapping the shoulders of passersby and thrusting petition forms at them.

Want to sign to get Ralph Nader on the presidential ballot? he asked one person after another.

The usual answer in Maryland, traditionally a Democratic Party stronghold, is no -- often, an angry no, Zawisky said. But the volunteer from Buffalo, N.Y., pledged he would not let Democrats -- many of whom blame Nader for tipping the 2000 election to Republican President Bush -- stop him from collecting as many signatures as possible.

As a third-party candidate, Nader needs 10,000 signatures from registered Maryland voters by Monday to get his name on the state's ballot for the Nov. 2 election.

The campaign says it has already topped its goal, but volunteers are trying this weekend to grab hundreds of additional signatures to guarantee the petitions clear Maryland's State Board of Elections' verification process.

The petition drive is part of a national "Road Trip for Ralph," an effort by hundreds of volunteers working to put Nader on the ballot in 46 states and Washington, D.C. The campaign says it has received signatures from more than 400 people in Maryland in the last 10 days.

So far, Nader has officially gained access to one ballot, Nevada's, campaign spokesman Kevin Zeese said. Reviews by election boards are pending in nine states and ballot access is pending in seven others. Nader is not seeking ballot access in states that have stricter ballot-access rules, Zeese said.

Populist Party

Nader is running in Maryland as a candidate of the Populist Party, a revival of a short-lived, 19th-century national political party. Running as a Populist makes it easier for Nader to qualify for the ballot, needing a third of the 30,000 signatures it takes to qualify as an independent.

But getting 10,000 valid signatures is an expensive chore, said Virginia Rodino, Nader's Maryland campaign coordinator.

"We're short-staffed and underfunded," she said, adding the campaign had plenty of volunteers in 2000, when Nader ran as the candidate of the Green Party.

Zawisky said he has been met in recent weeks with anger and insults from people who blame Nader for putting Bush in the White House and the U.S. military into Iraq.

"It's just making [Nader] a scapegoat," Zawisky said.

Nader posed no problem for the Democrats in Maryland in the 2000 presidential election. Running as the Green Party candidate, he got 53,768 votes, or 3 percent of the total, compared to Democrat Al Gore's 1.1 million (57 percent) and Bush's 813,797 (40 percent).

Registered Democrats make up 56 percent of Maryland voters, compared with 30 percent who are Republicans and 13.9 percent who are unaffiliated or registered with minor parties.

Zawisky got a signature from the first Democrat he asked in Towson on Thursday morning, McDonnell Bruce.

"I've always liked Nader," Bruce said. "I'm not real thrilled about the choices" in the presidential race.

Quiet defiance

But most people met Zawisky's pitch with quiet defiance.

When he asked them to sign his petition, they shook their heads or put up their hands. At a farmers' market on Jessup Road, a cheese vendor who supports the Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, remained polite even after Zawisky tried to sway her.

"I'm afraid it's going to take votes away from Kerry and then Bush is going to win," said Kate Dallan from Harford County.

Josh White, the director of the Maryland Democratic Party, agreed with Dallan, but said the party is not actively trying to block Nader's ballot access.

"We think that if [Nader] gets on the ballot, then he deserves it," White said. "But at the same time, we feel a vote for Ralph Nader is a vote for Bush."

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