Saturday, October 9, 2004

Nader suit could send
state scrambling

The candidate for president could
force a reprint of ballots

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader filed suit yesterday to get his name on Hawaii's general election ballot, which has already been printed and sent to more than 11,000 Oahu absentee voters.

Political analysts say a ruling in Nader's favor -- less than a month before the Nov. 2 election -- would send the state scrambling to redo the state's ballots and recall the absentee ballots that have already been mailed.

"I don't know how you could possibly do it," said University of Hawaii political science professor Neal Milner. "The time line on this is pretty short ... and of course you don't have any option but to do it by Nov. 2."

The suit challenges state regulations on how third-party presidential candidates get on the ballot, alleging the rules "discriminate impermissibly against independent candidates and unfairly deny and deprive Hawaii voters of the opportunities to vote for them."

To try to get Nader on Hawaii's ballot, the candidate's campaign was required to submit 3,711 valid signatures last month to the state elections office. On Sept. 24, Nader supporters were told they were 587 names short of the required total because more than 1,500 signatures had been deemed invalid.

Nader's suit alleges that state election officer Dwayne Yoshina "arbitrarily and capriciously" threw out a number of valid signatures and failed to make an effort to read and verify the names of those signing the petitions.

Yoshina is also accused of refusing to consider those who listed their addresses as post office boxes.

The suit seeks a preliminary injunction to halt mailing absentee ballots and a declaratory judgment to get Nader's name, as well as those of his running mate and two other third-party presidential candidates, on new ballots.

A preliminary hearing is set for Wednesday at 9 a.m. before U.S. District Judge David Ezra. Nader is listed as a plaintiff in the case along with vice presidential running mate Peter Camejo and Constitution Party presidential and vice presidential candidates Michael Peroutka and Chuck Baldwin. Also included as plaintiffs are Nader supporter Robert Stiver and Constitution Party backer David Porter.

Office of Elections spokesman Rex Quidilla declined to comment on the suit yesterday, saying officials were still "going over the language." He also would not talk about the effects of a ruling in Nader's favor.

"We're not going to have any comment until we're able to digest the lawsuit," he said. "Whatever remedy to resolve the issue would come from the courts. The court would have to examine the facts."

Honolulu attorney Eric Seitz filed the suit for Nader, saying it was a last resort after "administrative remedies" failed. Election officials started reviewing the disqualified signatures this week, and were expected to make a ruling on them next week.

"The process itself is designed to make it difficult for independent candidates to qualify," Seitz said. "Somebody who comes from a recognized party doesn't have to have any signatures."

City Clerk Denise DeCosta said that a ruling in Nader's favor would mean a recall of the more than 11,000 absentee ballots that have been sent out so far to Oahu voters. She said some of those were sent to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and turnaround is an issue.

"We need to mobilize fairly quickly," she said. "It's an urgency that the court needs to rule quickly."

Quidilla said yesterday that ballots for the general election have also been printed. It is unclear how long reprints with Nader's name would take.

"It's a hell of a situation," said Dan Boylan, a University of Hawaii history professor and political analyst. "I can't imagine them holding up an election like this."

Milner agreed, saying the closeness of the election will be a major factor for the court to consider. He also said that "courts traditionally allow for a great deal of deference to states" when it comes to deciding who gets on the ballot.

"States do have a lot of discretion in these sorts of things," he said. "The election officer ... has traditionally, by law, had a lot of discretion in registration."

Milner could not think of a precedent-setting case, but did mention that Nader has filed similar suits in other states in an attempt to get his name on the ballot.

The candidate filed suit in Ohio on Wednesday, alleging its election rules also discriminate against independent candidates.

Nader is now on 35 state ballots, according to his Web site (www.votenader.org). Five other state courts are considering whether to include his name on the ballot.



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