Nader planning petition drive to qualify for Oregon’s ballot

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who is beginning to run up against an Aug. 24 deadline for qualifying for the ballot in Oregon, plans to launch his third effort to join the presidential race here.

After holding two conventions, Nader organizers say they will switch gears and have a petition drive. But that route has legal and logistical roadblocks that could keep his independent candidacy off the ballot.

Whether Nader appears on the Oregon ballot could play an important role in the outcome of the state’s presidential vote. Officials from both the Republican and Democratic parties think that Oregon will be closely contested and that Nader could draw away enough votes from Democrat John Kerry to aid the Republican incumbent, George W. Bush.

The Nader campaign initially expected to qualify quickly for Oregon’s ballot by attracting at least 1,000 registered voters to an April convention featuring Nader. That effort fell short by more than 200 voters, forcing the campaign to try again on June 26.

At that event — which attracted some Bush supporters who liked the idea of having Nader on the ballot — organizers said they were able to collect signatures from more than 1,000 attendees.

But Greg Kafoury, a Portland attorney running the Nader campaign in Oregon, said he’s not sure there were enough signatures from properly registered voters.

While they’re waiting to verify the signatures, Kafoury said, the Nader campaign decided to take another approach to getting on the ballot: a petition drive.

“Maybe it will be essential,” Kafoury said. “Maybe it will just be insurance.”

New hurdles await

The petition drive comes with its own set of hurdles. The Nader campaign originally wanted to collect the 15,306 signatures needed to qualify him as an independent candidate.

But state Elections Director John Lindback said his office probably would not approve that approach because Nader’s vice presidential candidate, Peter Camejo, is a member of the Green Party, not a registered independent.

The Nader campaign’s other option is to collect the 18,908 signatures needed to form a minor party that then could nominate Nader and Camejo to appear on the Oregon ballot.

That approach also has its pitfalls. The new minor party would need to leave time to hold a nominating convention.

Kafoury said the Nader campaign is working on the legal issues and has not decided what kind of petition drive to launch.

In any case, the signatures must be gathered and verified by Aug. 24 to qualify for the ballot in Oregon. Lindback said that means the Nader campaign probably would have to finish its signature-gathering by about Aug. 16 — slightly more than a month from now.

Nader, the Green Party nominee in the past two elections, was on the ballot in Oregon and 42 other states in 2000. This year, he has faced legal challenges in several states and has complained that Democrats are trying to sabotage his candidacy.

Conservatives ready to help

Richard Winger, who runs the nonpartisan Ballot Access News, said Nader has a chance to qualify in as many as 45 states this year, but it could be a much lower number.

Nader may continue to get help from Bush supporters in this state. Citizens for a Sound Economy, a conservative group with funding from several business figures, urged members to attend the Nader convention last month and is ready to help again.

“We actually talked about launching this (petition drive) ourselves,” said Russ Walker, the Oregon director of the group. “We are going to do something. Probably, at a minimum, we’d ask members to circulate the petition and help get Nader on the ballot.”

Dawn Phillips, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Republican Party, said the party would not get formally involved in the Nader effort.

However, “there may be some volunteers and grass-roots people who may help him,” she said, “because there are lot of people who want him on the ballot.”

Democratic Party officials said they will scrutinize any Nader petition drive.

“We are monitoring the process very closely to ensure that the integrity of Oregon’s election process is upheld,” said Neel Pender, the party’s executive director.

When asked how confident he was that Nader would make the ballot, Kafoury replied: “We’ll do what is necessary. We are serious people.”

Jeff Mapes: 503-221-8209;