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Nader to Campaign in Maryland After Court Victory on Ballot Access

By Samson Habte
Capital News Service
Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2004

WASHINGTON - Third-party presidential candidate Ralph Nader will campaign Friday in Maryland, just days after the state's highest court ordered elections officials to put his name on the November ballot.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled Monday that state officials wrongly invalidated 542 petition signatures and ordered the signatures be accepted, pushing Nader over the 10,000 required by state law to qualify a third-party candidate.

Nader campaign officials hailed "common-sense" decision.

But few political observers expect Nader's presence on the ballot will affect the race in Maryland, a traditionally Democratic state where recent polls give Democratic nominee John Kerry a significant lead over President Bush.

"The only way his (Nader's) presence is going to make a difference is if this state tightens up significantly," said pollster Patrick Gonzales, president of Maryland-based Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies.

But that will not deter Nader, who will appear Friday evening at the University of Maryland, College Park, with his vice presidential candidate, activist Peter M. Camejo.

In August, Nader's supporters in Maryland gathered more than 15,000 signatures to put the two men on the state ballot under the banner of the Populist Party, well over the 10,000 needed. But the State Board of Elections rejected more than 5,000 signatures, including some that were thrown out because voters were listed as residents of counties in which they did not reside.

Nader's campaign challenged the election board's decision in court, arguing that requiring signatures to be gathered on a county-by-county basis was unnecessary.

State elections officials argued in court that the voter-residency requirement was important because it made it easier for local elections boards to check the authenticity of signatures against voter rolls and prevent elections fraud. But Nader's campaign said that technological advances have made certification easier.

Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Philip Caroom sided with the board, saying on Sept. 14 that it is not the role of the court to decide how the state administers elections rules.

But the Court of Appeals disagreed, saying that the county-by-county provision was "invalid as applied in this case," and overturning Caroom's decision.

"It's good that the court put the voters' interest before the administrative process," said Kevin Zeese, a spokesman for the Nader campaign.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court also ordered Nader on that state's ballot Monday, overturning a lower court ruling that denied him access because he was running on multiple party lines in different states.

Zeese said Nader is now on the ballot in 37 states, after the victories in Maryland and Pennsylvania, even though litigation is still pending in seven of those states. Nader is challenging his exclusion from the ballot in an additional seven states.

Nader's candidacy concerns Democrats, who worry that he could drain votes from Kerry.

"We still believe that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush," said Josh White, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party.

White added that he is not worried about Nader's impact in Maryland, where the latest Gonzales poll gave Kerry 53 percent of the vote to Bush's 40 percent.

Gonzales noted that the last time a Republican presidential candidate won Maryland was in 1988, when Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis suffered a nationwide drop in the polls at the end of the campaign.

"The election would have to turn dramatically across the country for Nader to have an impact on Maryland," Gonzales said. "And if that happens, Maryland won't really matter."

Copyright 2004 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism


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