September 7, 2004
Not only are his poll numbers down to 1%, but Democratic efforts to keep him off the ballot are succeeding in several states despite intense Republican efforts to keep him on. His ballot status is assured in 22 states, but tenuous in at least a dozen.
The near-certain result: He will not be an option for many voters who chose him four years ago. And setting partisan interests aside, what is democratic about that?
It is just the latest triumph for the arcane rules the parties created to close out competition.
In Oregon, for example, a Democratic state official ruled last Wednesday that Nader's petitions, signed by more than 15,000 voters, are invalid because the sheets weren't properly numbered. In Virginia, Democrats challenged Nader's petitions because they weren't "sorted" county by county before the filing deadline.
The favorable interpretation is that Nader is a gadfly who has no chance of being elected, so keeping him off the ballot forces voters to make the "real" choice between George W. Bush and John Kerry.
Certainly, that is the way Democrats will tend to see it. Had Nader not run in 2000, Al Gore would surely have been elected.
But the effect is to disenfranchise voters who think that "real" choice isn't much of a choice at all, and that undermines confidence in the political system.
Among the ballot barriers:
•Daunting numbers. Several states require so many signatures that few candidates qualify. In Oklahoma, for instance, an independent had to gather the signatures of more than 37,000 registered voters to get on the Nov. 2 ballot. None succeeded this year.
•Special hurdles. In several states, including Alabama, Georgia, Illinois and Kansas, legislators jealously guard their parties' hold on seats in Congress and state legislatures. In these states, it's tougher to capture a spot on ballots for those jobs than for president, and the impact is evident. In six of Georgia's 13 congressional districts this fall, voters will have no choice for Congress because only one candidate, a Republican or Democrat, will appear on the ballot.
•Angry additions. When an independent or minor-party candidate succeeds, lawmakers often raise the bar higher. In Alabama, after a third-party candidate captured a county commission seat in 1994, state lawmakers tripled the percentage of signatures needed to get on the ballot for every office but president, according to Richard Winger, editor of Ballot-Access News.
Proponents of tough rules argue that they prevent ballots from becoming overloaded and confusing to voters. But the experiences of states that have eased restrictions say otherwise. In New Jersey, an independent can capture a ballot slot by signing up 800 voters. The upshot? In 1993, 19 candidates were listed for governor. The Republican won. The ballot for president typically lists nine candidates, and there's no evidence of confusion.
Nader may, indeed, be a distraction. But voters should make that decision, not parties armed to freeze out competition.