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Inside Politics

Court OKs Nader on Florida ballot


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(CNN) -- Presidential candidate Ralph Nader will be included on the Nov. 2 ballot in Florida on the Reform Party line, after the state's highest court turned back a Democratic effort to get him tossed from the ballot.

The Florida Supreme Court, by a 6-to-1 vote, rejected legal challenges brought by the state's Democratic Party and seven voters, who argued that Nader should be kept from appearing on the ballot as the Reform Party's candidate because it is no longer a viable national party.

The Florida Democratic Party later announced that it would not continue to pursue the legal fight.

Many Democrats blame Nader's Green Party candidacy in 2000 for siphoning enough votes away from Al Gore to swing key states, including Florida, into President George W. Bush's column.

Four years ago, Nader received more than 97,000 votes in the Sunshine State; Bush beat Gore by just 537 votes.

After unsuccessfully trying to persuade Nader not to run again, Democratic operatives have been actively trying to keep him off the ballot in key states -- while their Republican counterparts have been working just as hard to get him on the ballot.

Nader is running this year as an independent, but he has been endorsed by the national Reform Party, with its state party affiliates deciding if he gets their ballot line. In Florida, the Reform executive committee petitioned to put Nader on the ballot under a provision of state law governing candidacies by minor parties.

Secretary of State Glenda Hood, an appointee of Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, then certified him as the party's candidate.

But the plaintiffs in the lawsuit argued that the Florida Reform Party no longer met a requirement that it be affiliated with a national party holding a national convention to nominate presidential candidates because the Reform Party USA -- the remnants of a movement spearheaded by Ross Perot in 1992 -- no longer met that definition.

They charged that Nader should have been forced to qualify for the ballot under a more difficult process for independent candidates, which would have required him to gather petition signatures.

However, the state's highest court said that because Florida law provides no specific definition of the term "national party," the dispute "should be resolved broadly in favor of ballot access."

State law "is not sufficiently clear to put the Reform Party of Florida on notice that it could not qualify under its provisions" as a minor party, the Supreme Court majority said -- adding that the Legislature, which overhauled state election laws after the dispute over the 2000 presidential race, should address the problem "at its earliest opportunity."

A spokesman for the Nader campaign, Kevin Zeese, applauded the decision and said Nader is planning a nine-city tour of the state at the end of the month.

He also said Democratic efforts to keep Nader off the ballot in other swing states have caused him to step up his campaigning in states where the race is close between Bush and Democratic nominee John Kerry.

"They have kept us off the ballots in other states, so he will spend more time in battleground states than originally intended," Zeese said. "We hope Democrats engage on issues and stop anti-democratic efforts to prevent voters from having a choice."

The Kerry campaign declined to comment on the Florida decision. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe issued a statement saying "the fact that Ralph Nader secured a place on the Florida ballot by means of the Pat Buchanan Reform Party speaks for itself."

"In state after state, Nader has become an extension of the Republican Party and their corporate backers," McAuliffe said. "Voters who care about affordable health care, the environment or corporate accountability should be supporting John Kerry in November."

In all, Nader is now on the ballot in 31 states, though some of those are still being challenged. Among the places where he has qualified are key battleground states such as Nevada, Iowa, West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Florida, Oregon and Ohio.

Nader has filed enough signatures to get on the ballot in New York, Kentucky, Hawaii and Vermont, as well as in two battleground states, Wisconsin and Minnesota, but officials in those states have not yet certified him for the ballot.

He is also suing to get on the ballot in six states where he failed to qualify, including another swing state, Pennsylvania, where he was disqualified as an independent candidate, despite gathering enough petition signatures, because he accepted the national Reform Party endorsement.

Of the eight states where Nader failed to get on the ballot and has not mounted a legal challenge, only one, Missouri, is expected to be close enough for him to possibly have an impact on the outcome. In California, where his petition drive fell well short, his campaign is considering new ways to try to get on the ballot -- keeping the information close to the vest lest Democrats try to thwart him.

Nader's vice presidential running mate, Peter Camejo, is from California.


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