A state court knocked Ralph Nader off Pennsylvania's presidential ballot Wednesday, citing legal problems with his nomination papers that left him thousands of signatures short of the number he needed.
Calling the petitions "rife with forgeries," Commonwealth Court President Judge James Garner Colins said that fewer than 19,000 of the more than 51,000 signatures that Nader's supporters submitted were valid. Nader needed at least 25,697 to be listed on the ballot as an independent candidate.
"I am compelled to emphasize that this signature-gathering process was the most deceitful and fraudulent exercise ever perpetrated upon this court," Colins said in a 15-page ruling that climaxed a two-week review in multiple courtrooms across the state.
Fake names created
"The conduct of the candidates, through their representatives (not their attorneys), shocks the conscience of the court," he said. "In reviewing signatures, it became apparent that, in addition to signing names such as `Mickey Mouse,' 'Fred Flintstone,' 'John Kerry,' and the ubiquitous 'Ralph Nader,' there were thousands of names that were created at random and then randomly assigned either existent or nonexistent addresses by the circulators."
The signature review was prompted by a court challenge filed by a group of voters sympathetic to Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry.
Nader's unsettled status had caused headaches for elections officials in the state's 67 counties as the court proceedings bumped up against the timetable for mailing out larger-than-usual batches of absentee ballots.
Some counties heeded the state's recommendation that they not send out civilian absentee ballots until after the court case was settled, but many counties decided to mail out ballots that included Nader so that voters have time to cast them by the Oct. 29 deadline. Absentee votes cast for Nader are likely to be thrown out, officials have said.
The ruling marked the second time in as many months that the Commonwealth Court, one of two intermediate level courts in Pennsylvania's judiciary, had disqualified Nader from the ballot.
In late August, a three-judge panel of the court said Nader could not run as an independent in Pennsylvania because he had accepted the nomination of the national Reform Party in other states. The state Supreme Court overturned that ruling last month and ordered the signature review.
Democrats wanted to keep Nader off the Pennsylvania ballot because they feared he could pull liberal votes away from Kerry and give President Bush the advantage in their closely fought race for the state's 21 electoral votes, the nation's fifth-largest prize.
In 2000, Democrat Al Gore carried Pennsylvania, beating Republican Bush by fewer than 205,000 votes out of 4.9 million cast. Nader, the Green Party nominee that year, received 103,392 votes.
Nader is on the ballot in more than 30 other states.