Thursday, August 26, 2004

Nader campaign set back

Butler Co. accepts only 4% of ballot petition signatures

By John Kiesewetter
Enquirer staff writer

HAMILTON - Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader ran into a roadblock here Wednesday in the effort to get his name on the Ohio ballot.

The Butler County Board of Elections ruled that only 24 of Nader's 633 petition signatures - less than 4 percent - were valid in the county.

Butler was the first major Ohio county to verify its share of petitions carrying a total 14,473 signatures submitted by Nader backers to Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell Aug. 18, said Dan Trevas of the Ohio Democratic Party, which has asked election boards to scrutinize Nader petitions.

Nader needs at least 5,000 valid signatures from voters anywhere in the state to appear on the ballot in Ohio, a presidential battleground state. Nader drew 2.5 percent of the Ohio vote in 2000, when George W. Bush beat Democrat Al Gore by 3.6 percentage points in the state.

"Boy, they sure don't want anyone to have a choice, do they?" Kevin Zeese, national spokesman for the Nader campaign, said Wednesday. He called the Butler County ruling "disgusting."

Carlo LoParo, spokesman for Blackwell, said that "a 95 percent error rate is extremely high, and perhaps unprecedented."

Verifications from other counties are expected by the end of the month, at which time Blackwell's office will know if Nader has the necessary 5,000 valid signatures, LoParo said.

Four states - Illinois, Maryland, Missouri and Virginia - denied Nader access to state ballots last week because his supporters did not submit enough valid signatures or failed to follow procedures.

Bob Mosketti, Butler County Board of Elections director, said numerous problems were found with the Nader petitions. Among them:

• 228 signatures collected by Daryl Oberg of Cuyahoga County were rejected because he listed his address as the Candlewood Suites hotel in Blue Ash. A hotel is not a legal address for a registered Ohio voter, said Betty McGary, the Butler County deputy elections director.

• 220 signatures gathered by Steven Laws Aug. 14-15 in Butler County were thrown out because Laws also collected signatures those days in Lorain and Cuyahoga counties in northern Ohio.

"We felt it was physically impossible for one person to get signatures in all of those places in one day," McGary said. "Now it's up to the Nader camp to provide evidence that they are valid."

• 120 signatures collected by three campaign workers were ruled out because the circulators were not Ohio registered voters, as required by law, Mosketti said.

• At least 16 signatures were discounted because the circulators' signatures did not match other samples of their own handwriting.

"We're not handwriting experts, but the signatures did not appear genuine to us," McGary said.

County elections boards Monday received the petitions from Blackwell's office. On the same day, the Butler County board and other elections offices received a fax from Columbus attorney Donald McTigue, representing the Ohio Democratic Party, asking each county to have two employees - a Republican and Democrat - inspect the signatures.

Democrats are "closely observing" the Nader petitions because "other states are finding fraud and removing him," Trevas said.

If not placed on the ballot, the Nader campaign could go to court, Zeese said.

"We'll see how it goes statewide," he said. "We'll file suit to get on the ballot, if we have to."

Names appearing on the Nov. 2 ballot must be certified by Sept. 8, LoParo said.



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