Analysis: Request tests Nader court clout

By MICHAEL KIRKLAND, UPI Legal Affairs Correspondent  |  Sept. 27, 2004 at 4:55 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 27 (UPI) -- Ralph Nader's supporters want the Supreme Court of the United States to help get their presidential candidate on the Oregon ballot.

The request is a prime test of whether the independent candidate can use the federal courts to force his way onto ballots in states where officials say he hasn't met the qualifications. Nader supporters are claiming that their constitutional rights, particularly the "due process," or fair proceedings, guarantee of the 14th Amendment, have been violated.

The issue is important far beyond Oregon in a number of other states where the presidential contest is expected to be close between Republican President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

As in 2000, Nader's candidacy is expected to draw more votes away from the Democratic nominee than the Republican nominee. Polls say an estimated 70 percent of Nader voters open to other candidates in 2000 would have voted for Democratic Vice President Al Gore if Nader had not been on the ballot.

In 2004 Democratic officials in individual states have been fighting tooth and nail to keep their ballots Nader-free. Republicans have been fighting just as hard to get him included and in some cases are financing Nader's efforts.

Those efforts in Oregon have been particularly bumpy.

Nader's supporters claim that they had gathered enough petition signatures necessary to get him on the Oregon ballot. In fact, his supporters say, the petitions they submitted to the county elections boards contained more than 27,000 signatures, about 12,000 more than needed.

Published reports say Republicans were among those circulating the petitions.

County elections officers are supposed to verify the signatures and in turn submit them to the Oregon secretary of state's office before Aug. 24, the filing deadline for the Nov. 2 election.

However, as the petitions were being filed with the counties, Nader supporters said in a request filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, the secretary of state sent county officials an informal memo instructing them to remove petition sheets from the official count if the name of the circulator of the sheets was identified by initials only and if the circulation date had been crossed out or modified.

Using those restrictions, Nader supporters said, the elections officers verified and returned petitions containing more than 18,000 verified signatures to the secretary of state's office, still more than enough to qualify. Neither the state nor the counties notified the Nader campaign of the restrictions or the rejections, Nader's supporters said.

At that point, however, Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, a Democrat, also began to review the petition sheets and rejected more than 3,000 of the signatures, leaving Nader 218 short of the 15,306 signatures needed.

The Nader campaign filed suit, and a state judge ruled that the independent candidate had qualified for the ballot. But last week the Oregon Supreme Court issued a writ ordering the judge to throw out his ruling. The state high court cited U.S. Supreme Court precedent giving the states considerable leeway to protect the integrity of their ballots.

Nader's supporters then asked the U.S. Supreme Court in an emergency request filed last Friday to block the Oregon Supreme Court's order, meaning the judge's ruling would stand.

The supporters argue that by applying "unwritten rules" to the nominating process -- specifically, the collection of petitions -- the state was acting unconstitutionally.

"The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that application of the 'unwritten rules' did not violate Oregon law," Nader supporters told the U.S. Supreme Court. "We argue here that application of the 'unwritten rules' did violate the rights of plaintiffs under the U.S. Constitution by depriving them of a recognized liberty interest with no notice and no opportunity to cure the alleged 'circulator errors' on the signature sheets."

Bradbury "provided no ruling and no rationale for rejection of these circulator signatures," the Nader supporters said.

The request was automatically channeled to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who oversees the 9th U.S. Circuit. O'Connor can grant or reject the request or, more likely, refer it to the full court for a vote.

Meanwhile, the Nader campaign said on its Web site it has filed signatures in 26 other states and the District of Columbia. In addition, the campaign is relying on Reform Party access to seven state ballots.

Signatures have been submitted in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The campaign said it has satisfied the signature requirements in Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey and South Dakota.

In addition the Reform Party has ballot access in Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana and South Carolina. Nader has also received the nomination of the Independent Party of Delaware.

The Nader campaign also said it was on the ballot in 43 states in 2000, when Nader was the candidate of the Green Party, and expects to exceed that number in 2004 -- bad news for the Kerry campaign.


(No. 04A242, Kucera et al vs. Bradbury and Democratic Party of Oregon et al.)


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