Nader Struggles to Break State Ballot Barriers
By Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer
Compared to presidential candidate and iconic consumer-rights advocate Ralph Nader, Michael Peroutka is nearly unknown.
But Peroutka, a Maryland attorney, is the presidential nominee of the Constitution Party and will have his name on at least 16 state ballots in this year's general election. Nader, who received nearly 2.9 million votes in his presidential quest in 2000 and is blamed for keeping Vice President Al Gore out of the Oval Office, is on zero state ballots so far..
Nader's late-blooming 2004 campaign already has failed to meet ballot requirements in Texas, missed a first attempt in Oregon and is searching for statewide organizers in 35 states as it struggles to collect up to 1.5 million signatures under a confusing array of state laws that dictate who gets on the ballot and who doesn't.
Nader, 70, is sure to be on the ballot in a handful of states with the lowest requirements plus seven states where he may head the Reform Party ticket, but it's still uncertain he will get on enough ballots in crucial states to pose a threat to the election of Democrat John Kerry.
He faces a bigger challenge getting his name on the ballot this election if he continues to run as an independent without the backing of further state or national parties.
The consumer crusader was on 43 state ballots four years ago listed 13 different ways, including as an independent and as the Green Party nominee. His vote totals were larger than the margin between Gore, a Democrat, and then-Gov. George W. Bush, a Republican, in seven states where the outcome was decided by fewer than 3 percentage points. In two of those states, Florida and New Hampshire, a small fraction of Nader's votes would have given the victory to Gore.
This year in Florida, Nader as an independent candidate must present more than 93,000 signatures to be on the ballot, while candidates of an organized party, such as Peroutka of the Constitution Party, do not need to collect any signatures.
Texas, Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina and Oklahoma are five states where the Nader campaign will have the toughest time making the ballot, said Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese. Of those five states, Nader was on only the Texas ballot in 2000. (He also was not on ballots in Idaho, South Dakota and Wyoming in 2000.) Requirements in the five states vary from 29,553 signatures by July 1 in Indiana to 100,532 signatures by July 6 in North Carolina.
The Nader campaign has filed a lawsuit challenging the Lone Star State's ballot-access laws after missing the May 10 deadline to submit 64,077 signatures.
Independent candidates in Texas have just 60 days to collect signatures equal to 1 percent of the vote in the last presidential campaign. By contrast, minor political parties have 75 days to get to 1 percent of the last gubernatorial campaign about 20,000 fewer signatures in this case.
Nader faced an additional obstacle in Texas. The state Democratic Party posted a message urging members to "Keep Ralph Nader off the Texas Ballot."
Several states should present little or no challenge for Nader, including Colorado and Louisiana, which require only a $500 fee for independent and third-party candidates to qualify for the ballot. Arkansas, Mississippi, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington require just 1,000 signatures.
There are signs that Nader is willing to shed his independent status to clear state ballot hurdles. He has accepted the nomination of Ross Perot's Reform Party, which qualifies for seven state ballots: Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana and South Carolina. Nader still may choose to run as an independent in some of those states, Zeese said.
In a few states, such as Maryland, the Nader camp is forming a new Populist Party to gain the legal advantages of a political party in getting on the ballot.
Although Nader is one of the two leading contenders for the Green Party nomination along with the party's general counsel, David Cobb it is still unclear whether Nader would run a third consecutive time as the party's standard-bearer.
Nader has said that he would not accept the Green nomination, which would place him on presidential tickets in 16 additional states, said party spokeswoman Nancy Allen. That has disappointed many Greens who came to the party because of Nader, she said.
Still, the Greens could vote at their June 26 convention to endorse Nader even if they decide not to officially nominate a presidential candidate, Allen said. But a mere endorsement would not put him on the ticket as a Green candidate in any states.
Third parties face higher hurdles for state ballots, according to a 2003 report by the Reform Institute, which graded states on their ballot access laws. In Pennsylvania, the Democratic and Republican parties need only 2,000 signatures, while minor parties need more than 25,000 signatures to get a candidate on the ballot.
The tougher ballot standards for independent and third-party candidates are partly a reaction to the 1968 presidential campaign of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, said Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News.
Wallace was the nominee of his own American Independent Party that year in a nearly successful bid to tie up the Electoral College and force one of the major party candidates to adopt his segregationist views, said Walter Stone, chairman of the political science department at the University of California, Davis.