WASHINGTON – In the battle between Democratic and Republican superheroes John Kerry and George W. Bush for the White House,independent candidate Ralph Nader might seem like a mere inconvenience.
But as Nov. 2 approaches,supporters and scholars alike say that keeping Nader off the ballot in some states is a devastating blow for democracy.
“In an act of intense political bigotry,some people are denying others the chance to vote for a candidate they believe in,” said Kevin Zeese,a Nader campaign spokesman. Zeese was a panelist at a National Press Club forum Wednesday.
Other panelists said Nader should be able to run for office,but questions about the legitimacy of signatures used to apply for ballot access in some states is a bigger issue.
“Ralph has every right to run,but he's got to follow the rules,” said Bob Brandon,co-founder of United Progressives for Victory,a group that supports Nader's goals,but has run national advertisements urging people not to vote for him.
Nader is too late to make the ballot in 12 states,and is in the middle of court fights in Ohio,Pennsylvania and Illinois.
Zeese said that,while voters occasionally sign nominating petitions as Mickey Mouse or Fred Flintstone as a joke,more signatures are thrown out because of simple processing mistakes.
In Pennsylvania,Zeese said 10,000 signatures were not counted because voters had moved within the state from the time they had last registered. That knocked Nader off the ballot,and his campaign has appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Zeese said Nader did not make the ballot in Oregon because of a rule regulating the petition's page numbering,but residents can still write his name in.
Cecelia Martinez,executive director of the Reform Institute,said third parties typically have more problems with ballot access than Republicans and Democrats. The Reform Institute is a nonprofit organization that works for campaign finance reform and open primaries.
Martinez said it is important to break down barriers to democracy such as requiring a lot of signatures for ballot access. She said there have been stiff challenges to non-major party candidates in 2004,but the institute would like to continue the debate “not in a heated election time.”
Brandon said he will not vote for Nader because Nader could swing the election in Bush's favor. He said Democrats should vote for Kerry,who is much more likely to be elected than Nader,and could increase federal funding for minorities,women and the environment.
“It saddens me to see all the support for Nader coming from people who only have one idea in mind,and that is to see that George Bush is re-elected,” Brandon said,referring to Republicans who give financial contributions to the Nader campaign.
Most polls show Nader drawing 1 or 2 percent of the vote.
Zeese said there is a common misconception among Democrats that Nader steals votes from Kerry. He said a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll last week found that,among likely Nader voters,52 percent would choose Bush and 44 percent would choose Kerry if they were not voting for Nader.
“If anything,Nader is a spoiler for Bush,” Zeese said.
Brandon said Gallup has been accused of including too many Republicans in its poll.
The poll was based on telephone interviews with more than 1,000 adults,and the margin of error is 3 percentage points.
“Republicans and Democrats are just two wings of the same corporate party,” and they want to keep Nader off the ballot because,if he is elected,they would lose their control of Washington as a “parasitic elite,” Zeese said.