Judge: Nader stays on ballot
September 1, 2004
Carson District Judge Bill Maddox said Tuesday the people hired to circulate petitions for Ralph Nader may be as transient as “carnival workers.” But he said he wouldn’t invalidate signatures they collected just because they listed hotels as their addresses.
The decision effectively foiled the Democratic Party’s attempt to block independent Nader from appearing as a presidential candidate in Nevada because it allowed more than 3,000 of the 11,878 signatures collected by Nader supporters to stand.
The Democrats and the Secretary of State’s Office had argued those who authenticate the petition signatures must list an actual legal address – not their temporary hotel room – so that they can be tracked later in case their petitions are challenged.
“On behalf of the citizens it is important to ensure the process is fair and accurate,” said Deputy Attorney General Vicki Oldenburg. “We need to be able to find them. We have to be able to require the place they reside, not the hotel they’re staying at.”
But Keith Loomis, representing Nader supporters, said the law itself doesn’t say circulators must list their “legal domicile.”
He said the law is confusing and asked, “Why should that fall on the backs of the people who sign the petitions?”
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Maddox agreed, saying neither the law nor regulations set by the secretary of state require petition circulators to list their legal domicile – instead asking they list their residence without defining that term. He said the secretary should consider changing that language and making it clear what they require.
Democratic Party officials, who think Nader’s presence on the ballot could take votes away from their candidate, Sen. John Kerry, said they will appeal the case to the Nevada Supreme Court. Nevada is one of a handful of “battleground” states where Kerry and President George Bush are concentrating efforts that could swing the Nov. 2 election.
Maddox said the growth of initiative and referendum efforts and the push to qualify more independent candidates like Nader have produced a new type of business which hires people to gather signatures. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled they don’t have to be registered voters in the state where they are collecting or even residents of that state.
“So we’ve got these, I’d almost compare them to carnival workers, and I get the impression some of these people aren’t real upstanding citizens,” he said. “But unless it’s made clearer, I’m not going to disqualify the signatures because of that.”
Maddox did disqualify a large number of signatures from the petition – including 559 who weren’t registered to vote the same day they signed the petition and 814 who weren’t registered at all, along with more than 1,900 who had other problems with their registration.
But he said that still leaves about 7,000 valid signatures out of 11,878 – well over the 5,133 he said were needed to put Nader’s name on the Nevada ballot.
Maddox upheld the secretary of state’s original decision listing Nader as a presidential candidate on the Nevada ballot.
Chief Deputy Secretary of State Renee Parker said the ruling was fair and reasoned and wouldn’t be appealed by their office.
“But I’m heading back right now to put a definition of residency in our bill draft,” she said, adding that in the future they want both the temporary address and permanent legal address of petition circulators.
Contact Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.