Volunteer scrambling to get Nader on ballot
Bristol Township, PA - On an overcast and muggy summer day, Jeff Cohn spent time in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart in Bristol Borough doing what he's done a lot lately - asking people to give him a reason to vote in November.
Aug. 4, 2004
Bucks County Courier Times
As he walks through the parking lot, Cohn, of Levittown, asked people to sign his petition to have consumer advocate and Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader put on the Pennsylvania presidential ballot.
Cohn is trying to get 5,000 registered Bucks County voters to sign his petition, he said. Toward that goal, he's been to festivals, libraries, post offices and even the local premier of Michael Moore's hit movie "Fahrenheit 9/11" to ask for help.
For the most part, Cohn says, people have been open to his plea.
"There's not as many signatures as I would like, but the people are appreciating what we're trying to do," he said. "They may not agree with it, but they appreciate the time we've taken. In most places, we've been received well."
Cohn and his fellow volunteers are trying to get 40,000 signatures statewide - 14,303 more than the 25,607 required to put Nader on the ballot, said Dan Martino, Pennsylvania state petitions coordinator for Nader for President.
He decided to get involved in the Pennsylvania effort for a few reasons, Cohn said.
"Every four years, the Republicans put up their Tin Man and the Democrats put up their Scarecrow and tell us the same story about Oz," Cohn said. "It's the same thing over and over again and there's no real progress with Social Security or Medicare."
Secondly, he is impressed with the man himself, Cohn said.
"Ralph Nader came to a fund-raiser in Philadelphia," he said. "He met the volunteers and talked to us. I was inspired by him, and he became an instant hero."
But for some, Nader is far from a hero. These are people who believe that Nader's presence on the ballot will all but guarantee re-election for President George W. Bush. In fact, one of the worst receptions that Cohn has gotten for his efforts came at the premier of "Fahrenheit 9/11," he said.
"Those people just want Bush out and they don't care," he said. "To them, it's about blame. The Democrats are using the same tactics as the Republicans. They're spreading fear."
Changing their minds might be a little hard, thanks to reports that say Nader's campaign is getting a boost from the Republican Party both in its efforts to collect signatures nationwide and to finance the campaign.
Cohn calls that smoke and mirrors.
"If someone tells me that the reason they're signing my petition is to get Bush re-elected, I'll discourage them," he said. "Besides, the Democrats don't worry about where their donations are coming from. They're coming from corporations like Pfizer."
Ballot access in Pennsylvania has been a challenge for third parties since the early 1970s, said Richard Winger, author of the newsletter and Web site "Ballot Access News," based in San Francisco. Since former Alabama Gov. George Wallace took 13 percent of the vote as an independent in the 1968 Pennsylvania election, "no other candidate [has gotten] more than 3 percent of the vote," Winger said. "Because of this, a lot of states decided that it was too easy to get on the ballot. In Pennsylvania, the number of signatures needed was quadrupled in 1971 for no good reason.''
Kevin Zeese, Nader for President spokesman, said it's been hard getting Nader on the ballots in many states. In some cases, that's been due to tougher state ballot access laws.
But in other cases, it's been due to the political machinations of Democrats, fearing a reprise of the 2000 election, Zeese said.
"It's incredible how anti-democratic the system is," he said. "The Democrats have been systematically attacking Nader's presence on the ballot."
But if the Nader campaign doesn't meet its goal in Pennsylvania, it won't be because of the efforts of Pennsylvania's Democrats, said Don Morabito, executive director of Pennsylvania's Democratic Party. While the party admits it doesn't want Nader on the ballot, it also won't make an effort to keep him off, Morabito said.
"Nader will not be a factor in Pennsylvania," he said. "We expect a close race, but we're confident that we will win. If Ralph Nader gets on the ballot, he gets on the ballot. We'll kick his butt just like we'll kick George Bush's."
The petitions must be submitted to state election officials by today.
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