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Published: Tuesday, 10/5/2004

Nader asks Ohio Supreme Court to restore him to ballot

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Ralph Nader, who is running for president as an independent, wants the Republican-controlled Ohio Supreme Court to put him back on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Citing a massive backlog in voter registration forms, Mr. Nader filed a lawsuit yesterday asking the court to compel Ohio's chief elections officer to order county boards of elections to re-examine signatures that Mr. Nader's campaign submitted and also check signatures that never were reviewed.

"We collected more than enough signatures to be on the ballot, we followed the rules, and the partisanship of the bureaucrats should not rule the day," said Kevin Zeese, Mr. Nader's press secretary. "We hope that the voters are given the choice of the one candidate who opposes the war in Iraq."

On Sept. 28, Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell ordered Mr. Nader off the ballot. Mr. Blackwell sided with his assistant elections counsel, who ruled that 2,756 of the Nader petition signatures should be invalidated because the person who signed the petition did not circulate it, the circulator was not an Ohio resident, or several other irregularities occurred.

That decision - triggered by a protest filed by Democratic attorneys as part of a nationwide effort to keep Mr. Nader off ballots - meant Mr. Nader had 3,708 valid signatures of registered voters, or 1,292 signatures short of the total needed to be on the ballot as an independent presidential candidate.

Mr. Nader's lawsuit in large part does not challenge Mr. Blackwell's decision last week.

Instead, the Nader campaign asserts that Mr. Blackwell should order the 88 county boards of elections to re-examine and take a fresh look at signatures on Mr. Nader's petition.

Mr. Nader's attorneys estimate as many as 100,000 voter registration applications had not been processed when election boards reviewed the signatures on Mr. Nader's petition.

Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office, said he didn't see any reason why Mr. Blackwell should order the boards of elections to take another look at the Nader signatures.

Asked what would happen with absentee ballots if the Supreme Court or a federal judge placed Mr. Nader back on the ballot, Mr. LoParo replied: "We would let the court decide; whatever the court instructed us to do." The Ohio Supreme Court has five Republicans and two Democrats.

Mr. Nader's campaign submitted 14,473 signatures. Three weeks later, Mr. Blackwell certified the ballot with Mr. Nader on it after receiving word that county boards of elections had counted 6,464 valid signatures.

An attorney representing Mr. Nader's campaign said he's confident that at least 1,292 signatures of registered voters can be found among the 8,009 signatures that county board of elections either invalidated or rejected.

Daniel Hilson, a Columbus attorney representing the Nader campaign, said boards of elections made "simple clerical errors" and because of backlogs in processing voter registration forms, they erroneously marked people who signed the petitions as not registered to vote and circulators as ineligible to collect signatures.

For example, as of Sept. 2, the Lucas County Board of Elections had about 12,000 voter registration applications that were unprocessed, with 76 Nader signatures not reviewed because it appeared the circulator was not registered to vote, said Michael Cassidy, an attorney representing the Nader campaign.

"Because the Democratic National Committee is attempting to challenge the Nader filings in every state, this process in Ohio has managed to take 14,000 signatures and limit them to under 5,000 - which is a staggering thought," Mr. Cassidy said. "The issue that comes up is whether or not the laws in this state provide open ballot access."

But Paula Hicks-Hudson, director of the Lucas County Board of Elections, said board employees checked an alphabetized list of unprocessed voter registration forms before deciding whether the person who signed the petition was a registered voter.

Dan Trevas, a spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party, said Mr. Nader's lawsuit makes an "interesting argument."

"It all goes back to interpretations of who was registered when. I'm suspicious of their argument because I'd be surprised if boards of elections did not think about this," he said.

Mr. Nader is on the ballot in 36 states and could be on as many as 42 if he prevails in court cases, according to Ballot Access News.

If the Ohio Supreme Court does not grant the order that Mr. Nader is seeking, a direct appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or a new lawsuit in federal court are options, Mr. Cassidy said.

The lawsuit filed yesterday said the requirement that circulators must be Ohio residents is unconstitutional because it violates the free speech rights of those who signed the petitions.

Contact James Drew at:

jdrew@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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