Aug. 29, 2006 – As a fight over ballot access in Pennsylvania rages between the stateâ€™s Democratic, Republican and Green parties, a new ruling against the former independent ticket of Ralph Nader stemming from a 2004 election fight threatens to compound the conflict.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that former presidential candidate Nader and his 2004 running mate Peter Camejo must pay more than $81,000 in court costs from a lawsuit that challenged the signatures they gathered to qualify for the polls.
In 2004, a group of Democratic-aligned Pennsylvania voters filed a suit to keep the independent candidates off the state ballot, successfully disqualifying nearly two-thirds of the 51,000 signatures gathered by campaigners. A lower court found phony signatures, including thousands of names apparently created at random. The maneuver ultimately cost Nader and Camejo their appearance on the Pennsylvania ballot that year.
The candidates were not accused of direct involvement in wrongdoing. In fact, it appears they, too, were defrauded by a contractor who generated fake names and signatures. Their attorney says the whole affair was part of an orchestrated attempt to sabotage the campaign, though they present no evidence of an actual conspiracy.
Some Pennsylvania progressives view Wednesdayâ€™s decision as just another obstacle faced by independent and third-party candidates trying to access Pennsylvaniaâ€™s tightly guarded ballot. They say Democrats and Republicans have colluded to keep alternative tickets out of the way.
Democrats and Republicans need only collect 2,000 signatures to gain ballot access in Pennsylvania statewide elections, while third parties need 67,000.
"Everyone understands you can defeat democracy by stopping people from voting, but you can do it just as easily by controlling the ballot," said Basil C. Culyba, who represents Nader and Camajo in the case. Culyba told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "If you don't offer voters a choice, you've dealt just as crushing a blow as if you'd prevented them from voting."
Green Party candidates, fearing the financial burden they face when their ballot petitions meet costly legal challenges, are already dropping out of Pennsylvania races. The stateâ€™s Green Party gubernatorial and lieutenant governor candidates for the current election both withdrew their ballot petitions, alleging that Democrats had threatened to challenge their documents line by line.
Marakay Rogers, who was running for governor, said she could not afford the legal costs of defending her candidacy, according to the Post-Gazette. Rogers estimated the fees at upwards of $10,000 per week, a figure that does not include plaintiffsâ€™ legal fees she might have been forced to fork over in the event she ultimately lost the case.
The Nader-Camejo court loss is compounded by the recent revelation that the Green Partyâ€™s senatorial candidate, Carl Romanelli, has received a preponderance of his financial backing from Republican and conservative sources, presumably in an attempt to install Romanelli as a "spoiler."
The Associated Press and Philadelphia Inquirer have reported that at least $40,000, and possibly all $66,000, of the funds Romanelliâ€™s campaign spent on signature gathering came from Republican voters. In fact, even staffers from Republican incumbent Senator Rick Santorumâ€™s office have signed petitions to put Romanelli on the ballot.
Ironically, in a cycle reminiscent of the scenario that derailed the the Nader-Camejo ticket in the 2004 campaign, those and other suspicious signatures have become fodder for Democratic-aligned lawyers now challenging Romanelliâ€™s petition.