Independent Vice Presidential candidate Peter Camejo (searchon Tuesday compared Democratic Party efforts to keep Ralph Nader (searchoff the November ballot to "a dictator" who uses fear and false rhetoric to give voters the illusion they have an open electoral system.

Returning to sympathetic stomping grounds in his home state of California, Camejo rejected the conventional wisdom that his running mate's presence in the presidential race only furthers the interests of Republicans who want to see President Bush re-elected.

Instead, he argued that if the Nader-Camejo ticket gets any sizable measure of support, the fault lies with the Democrats' presumptive nominee, John Kerry (search), for failing to appeal to the "tens and tens of millions of Americans" who oppose the war in Iraq and stand to Kerry's left on social issues such as gay marriage.

"I don't want Bush, but much more important, I don't want to silence the voices for peace and social justice in this country," Camejo said. "I do not think we are in any way responsible for how other people vote."

Ever since Democrat Al Gore was defeated by Bush in 2000, the party has blamed Nader for siphoning liberal votes away from their candidate

Camejo said if Democrats were serious about eliminating the potential for any "spoiler effect" from Nader's candidacy, they would favor reforming election laws to allow voters to rank their top three preferences for certain offices. Such a system would give third-party candidates a viable shot while preventing anyone from winning with less than a majority of votes.

"The anger and rage over what happened in Florida ought to be directed at the two parties that let that electoral system exist," Camejo said.

The Nader campaign needs to gather a little more than 150,000 signatures from registered voters before Aug. 6 to get his name on California's ballot. Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party, said the party planned to review those signatures carefully and if necessary, challenge their validity to keep Nader off the ballot.

A similar effort by Democrats in Arizona last month prevented Nader from getting his name before voters in that state.

"These guys have no chance of being elected president, but they are picking and choosing those states that will affect the election and conceivably turn it over to Bush for four more years," Torres said. "I don't want to be part of that."

Camejo, 64, who garnered about 3 percent of the vote running as the Green Party's candidate for governor during California's recall election last fall, said that the national Green Party is "deeply divided" over the pending presidential race.

The Greens, who have ballot access in 22 states and the District of Columbia without having to secure signatures, rejected endorsing Nader in favor of Arcata lawyer David Cobb, but Camejo predicted that the majority of registered Greens will cast votes for him and Nader.

At the same time, he acknowledged that the Democrats' message about the danger Nader's candidacy poses to Kerry was undoubtedly scaring away voters who would otherwise cast ballots for his ticket.

"This is how people act when they are under a dictator," Camejo said. "This is a capitulation to the role of money, and we are the rebels."