August 12, 2004
Time is running short for Ralph Nader and his Oregon supporters.
The consumer advocate, who received 77,357 votes in Oregon as the Green Party candidate in the 2000 presidential election, faces an Aug. 24 deadline to submit 15,306 signatures of registered voters to state elections officials to qualify as an independent presidential candidate on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Greg Kafoury, Nader's Oregon campaign coordinator, expressed confidence Wednesday that the goal will be met. He said the campaign has collected more than 10,000 "raw" signatures, which still must be validated by county officials, and has about 100 people gathering signatures across the state.
But state and local elections officials warned that the Nader signatures should be submitted to county elections offices by early next week to ensure enough time to validate the signatures before the deadline.
"We're telling them that if they haven't gotten the signatures to us by the first of next week, we can't guarantee that we can verify them in time for the 24th," said John Kauffman, Multnomah County elections director.
As of Wednesday, Nader was far short of the goal.
Kauffman said Wednesday morning that his office had received 1,100 Nader signature sheets, with room for five signatures on each sheet. He said those documents had 2,691 valid signatures, an average of slightly less than 2.5 per sheet.
Clackamas County's elections manager, Darlene Kenney, said her office has received 147 Nader sheets with 209 signatures that still must be validated.
In Washington County, elections manager Mickie Kawai said the Nader campaign had submitted 250 sheets and that verification of the signatures was not finished. But if the same rate of valid signatures holds in Washington County, that would produce about 625 new signatures, giving Nader at most a total of about 3,525 in the state's three most populous counties.
Moreover, there is no evidence of Nader activity outside the Portland area. Lane County was a Nader stronghold in 2000, giving him 10,245 votes, second only to the 21,048 he received in Multnomah County. But Annette Newingham, chief deputy county clerk, said she was unaware of Nader signature-gathering in Lane County.
"They called a while ago (and said) that they didn't know if they would be able to make it down here," she said.
Local elections officials said the time it takes to verify signatures depends largely on how neat the petitions are, and that the Nader sheets were taking extra time. "The writing is hard to read, the addresses are kind of sloppy," Kawai said.
Despite the approaching deadline, Kafoury dismissed suggestions that his organization was seeking help from Republicans, many of whom think Nader will take votes from Democratic nominee U.S. Sen. John Kerry. He called such assertions "a smear."
As Nader's Oregon allies raced the clock, the somewhat chaotic nature of the signature process was illustrated by an indirect exchange between Kafoury and Kauffman. Kauffman said Wednesday morning that his office had completed processing the Nader sheets and was waiting for more.
Told of this remark later in the day, Kafoury interrupted a phone conversation and was heard telling a co-worker, "I just told Travis to stop everything and get over there and dump them on (Kauffman)."
Within an hour, 600 new sheets were delivered to Kauffman's office.
Edward Walsh: 503-294-4153; firstname.lastname@example.org