September 9, 2004
The Associated Press
Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader's name should appear on Oregon's ballot this fall, a Marion County Circuit Court judge ruled today, overturning a decision by the state's Democratic secretary of state.
Nader supporters had turned in more than 18,000 signatures, but Secretary of State Bill Bradbury — a Democrat — last week invalidated several thousand because of irregularities on petition sheets. That left Nader 218 signatures short of the 15,306 needed to put him on the Nov. 2 ballot, prompting a lawsuit by his supporters.
Nader backers had accused Bradbury of using technicalities to keep Nader off the ballot, because Bradbury is an open supporter of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. Democrats fear Nader's candidacy could draw votes from Democratic candidate John Kerry and tip the election to President Bush.
At a hearing on Wednesday, Marion Circuit Judge Paul Lipscomb appeared to accept the argument by Nader's attorneys, saying that the state appeared to have been inconsistent in applying rules for independent candidates.
After Lipscomb's decision today, Portland attorney Travis Diskin, a spokesman for the Oregon Nader campaign, said: "We're very happy about it."
"The judge ruled on just everything we argued," he said in a telephone interview. Nader supporters scheduled a news conference to discuss the decision.
Kevin Neely, spokesman for Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers, said he had not yet seen the opinion and withheld comment.
State Elections Director John Lindback on Wednesday denied that state officials had applied different rules to Nader than they had to other candidates.
"We apply the law evenhandedly and the secretary's positions are irrelevant," he testified.
In defending their actions, State election officials said that some petition circulators failed to consecutively number petitions as required by law before giving them to counties for verification of voters' signatures. And they said that some petitioners put initials on the petitions instead of signing their names as required.
At the hearing Wednesday, Lipscomb said, "It's troubling to me that you folks are so flexible with some rules and rigid with others."
Portland lawyer Dan Meek, representing Nader's Oregon campaign, argued Wednesday that the state has to comply with its rules "and not make up rules on the fly."
It was not clear how larger a factor Nader would be in the vote in the Oregon, which is considered a battleground state. The independent candidate's popularity in the state seems to have faded in 2000, when his campaign visits attracted large crowds and he drew 5 percent of the state's presidential vote.
Nader's supporters turned to statewide petitioning this year after failing at two conventions in Portland to get the needed 1,000 voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.
The consumer activist had met the requirements to appear on ballots in 20 states as of Tuesday, Nader's national office said.