Nader placed on Nov. ballot

Md. Court of Appeals says vote rule unconstitutional

Signatures were deemed invalid

State Democrats foresee little harm done to Kerry

September 21, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader will be on the Maryland ballot in November, thanks to a ruling yesterday by the state's highest court.

Reversing a decision by an Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge, the Court of Appeals decided that state elections officials must accept 542 signatures that they had previously declared invalid.

The ruling gives Nader the more than 10,000 signatures he needed to create the new Progressive Party and put him on the Maryland ballot as its nominee.

FOR THE RECORD - An article yesterday about a Maryland Court of Appeals decision putting presidential candidate Ralph Nader on the Maryland ballot misidentified the party he has created in the state. It is the Populist Party.
The Sun regrets the errors.

Nader campaign spokesman Kevin Zees called the ruling "a victory for voter intent over bureaucratic administration by the Board of Elections."

Nader submitted more than 15,000 signatures, but the State Board of Elections declared more than a third of them invalid, putting him, by its tally, 537 short.

Hundreds of those signatures - Nader said 618, the state 542 - were deemed invalid because voters signed petitions headed with the name of a county in which they were not residents.

State law requires petition sheets to be labeled with the name of a county and that only signatures by voters from that county are valid. The court yesterday ruled that provision unconstitutional.

Maryland Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone said the state prepared for a last-minute reversal by creating two ballot databases, one with Nader's name and one without.

"We just needed to know which one to send to the printer," she said. "All we wanted from today was what we got, which was `Put Mr. Nader on the ballot' or `Don't put him on the ballot.'"

The Maryland ruling comes on the heels of a Nader victory Friday in the Florida Supreme Court, which put him on that state's ballot - a decision that some Democrats fear could tip Florida and swing a close election to President Bush by taking votes away from Sen. John Kerry.

Nader's presence on the 2000 Florida ballot was widely viewed as costing Democrat Al Gore the presidency. Bush won Florida by 537 votes after five weeks of recounts. Nader received 97,421 votes, most of which, Democrats say, would have gone to Gore.

In more reliably Democratic Maryland, there is less concern about Nader tipping the state to Bush this year.

"No, we're not really worried about it," said Josh White, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party. "It's just we like people to understand that we truly believe a vote for Nader is a vote for George Bush."

Nader drew nearly 3 percent of the popular vote in 2000, when he was on the ballot in 43 states. His campaign wants to secure ballot access in at least as many states this year.

Nader's effort to get his name before voters in one key battleground state, Pennsylvania, was given new life yesterday by that state's Supreme Court, which overturned a lower court ruling that had barred him from the ballot and ordered a review of his petitions.

But judges in Arkansas and New Mexico ruled yesterday that Nader should not appear on their respective states' ballots.

In Ohio and Wisconsin, Nader has provisional certification but must withstand protest hearings today. A hearing in New Hampshire is set Friday.

Nader is on the ballot in the swing states of Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and West Virginia, but not Missouri.

Although Kerry and Bush have paid little attention to Maryland on the assumption that the state will go Democratic, Zees said Nader will start campaigning here Friday with a speech at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Zees said that since Maryland is not likely to be close, Democrats should feel more free to vote Nader.

"Maryland voters are free to vote their conscience," he said. "It's a state where people have the right to vote what they believe in and not vote their fear."

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