Analysis: Court refusal bad news for Nader

By MICHAEL KIRKLAND, UPI Legal Affairs Correspondent  |  Sept. 28, 2004 at 4:54 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court of the United States Tuesday refused to help independent candidate Ralph Nader get on the presidential ballot in Oregon.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who oversees Oregon and the rest of the 9th U.S. Circuit, referred an emergency request from Nader supporters to the full court for a vote, which took place behind closed doors.

Only Justice Stephen Breyer indicated he would have stayed a lower-court order keeping Nader off the ballot. He gave no explanation, and there was no comment from the rest of the justices.

The action by the high court is an indication that Nader cannot use the federal courts, or U.S. constitutional issues, 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 by Oregon officials.

Nader is currently stalled in most political surveys at just a few percentage points behind the major candidates, Republican President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

Whether he can influence the 2004 presidential election depends on how many state ballots in which his name appears.

As in 2000, Nader's candidacy is expected to draw more votes away from the Democratic nominee than the Republican nominee. Polls after that election said an estimated 70 percent of Nader voters who declared themselves open to voting for other candidates said they 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 to keep him off state ballots, while Republicans have been fighting just as hard to get him included and in some cases are financing Nader's efforts.

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

Under state law, 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, 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 -- the person taking down signatures -- was identified by initials only and if the circulation date had been crossed out or modified.

Using those restrictions, the elections officers verified and returned petitions containing more than 18,000 verified signatures to the secretary of state's office. That was still more than enough to qualify.

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 just 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 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."

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.


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


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