Democrats Tighten Noose On Nader In Punitive Attack On “Third Party” Candidates
by Michael Richardson
“Major party interests naturally lean more toward rigging and sabotaging than insuring fair and competitive fights.”
– Mark Brown
The Democrats are tightening the financial noose around Ralph Nader for his failed bid to obtain ballot access in Pennsylvania during his 2004 Presidential campaign. Nader had been deprived a place on the ballot after extensive litigation brought by the Democrats, and was later assessed a hefty $89,821 penalty by the Pennsylvania courts to be paid to the Democrats for court-related costs. Nader appealed the assessment and was recently denied a hearing by the U.S. Supreme Court. Emboldened, lawyers for the Democrats have now entered the costly order as a final judgment in an ongoing effort to enforce the penalty.
A Nader campaign attorney says about the post-election vendetta, “They have overreached and gone way too far. It is unprecedented.” The obvious chilling effect on independents and minor party candidates is not lost on Carl Romanelli, the 2006 Green Party would-be candidate for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania. Romanelli, too, has been hit by the Democrats with a huge bill for their costs in removing him from the ballot and has been ordered to pay $89,668.
If successful in Pennsylvania, Democrat legislators around the country will likely introduce similar punitive election laws in other states, particularly “swing” states, in a preventive effort to keep independents and minor party candidates off the ballot.
Capital University law professor Mark Brown has studied the 2004 legal wrangling that took Nader off the ballot in Pennsylvania and recently published a law review article on the affair. Brown discovered that the judge who favored the Democrats may have been motivated by animus toward Nader’s candidacy.
Nader needed 25,697 signatures on his nomination petitions to get a spot on the Pennsylvania ballot and submitted approximately 52,000. A week after filing the petitions the Secretary of State accepted Nader’s nomination after tossing about 5,000 signatures for various reasons. That same day, August 9, 2004, eight Democrat “objectors” represented by 24 lawyers challenged some 37,000 of the remaining signatures. After weeks of legal wrangling eleven judges were assigned the monumental task of a line-by-line review of Nader’s petitions.
Judge James Collins, who assessed the $89,821 bill, led the review declaring Nader’s petitions were “rife with forgeries” and that “this signature gathering process was the most deceitful and fraudulent exercise ever perpetrated upon this Court.” Collins alleged “thousands of names” were “created at random”. Justice Saylor of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed. He declared the Nader campaign had not engaged in any kind of “systemic” fraud and only 687 signatures out of 51,273 had actually been rejected for forgery.
Brown has discovered that Judge Collins personally ruled that 568 of the 687 purported forgeries were fraudulent leaving the other ten judges to find only 119 forgeries. Collins and two of the other reviewing judges discarded thousands of signatures on very “technical and complicated” criteria including a missing middle initial, use of ditto marks, or mixing printing with cursive writing. Collins ended up rejecting 70 percent of the 10,794 signatures he reviewed.
Brown wrote in his law review article, “Moreover, the eleven judges who reviewed Nader’s signature submissions apparently employed different standards to invalidate signatures at alarmingly different rates.” In a footnote, Brown notes that 3,500 signatures were invalidated for unstated reasons.
Brown writes there was a “concerted Democratic program to purge Nader from the presidential ballot.” Further, “The lesson to be drawn from the 2004 presidential race is that neither major party can be trusted to police a general election ballot. Major party interests naturally lean more toward rigging and sabotaging than insuring fair and competitive fights.”
“The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court pressed just under a dozen judges into service at different locations over the course of two weeks to canvass 52,000 signatures submitted by the Nader campaign. This pushed the Nader campaign beyond its legal and technical capacity.
“Forcing lawyers to scramble among a dozen courtrooms in as many days to uphold an agency’s decision authorizing ballot access is neither measured nor productive. The practice is not only constitutionally objectionable, but it also facilitates a moneyed effort to veto a political outsider’s participation in the electoral arena,” Brown said.
Ralph Nader is still reviewing his options regarding the costly and punitive order issued by Judge Collins to punish his bid for public office.
Brown concludes his analysis of the Democratic legal attack on Nader, “I suspect that as long as America’s political system rewards an empty lust for power, politicians and judges will continue to turn blind eyes to fair procedures.”
Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. In 2004 Richardson was Ralph Nader’s national ballot access coordinator.