HARRISBURG, Pa. – Lawyers in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on Monday challenged independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader's (search) petitions to get on Pennsylvania's Nov. 2 ballot, alleging that thousands of the signatures are forged, fictitious or legally flawed in other ways.
Pittsburgh lawyer Efrem M. Grail, who challenged Nader's petitions on behalf of seven western Pennsylvania voters, said in his filing that more than 30,000 signatures were invalid because the signers were not registered voters -- more than enough to prevent Nader from competing against President Bush and Democratic nominee John Kerry (search) for Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes.
Gregory M. Harvey, a Philadelphia lawyer who conducted a tandem review on behalf of a Philadelphia voter, said he found "a wide-ranging and extensive pattern of false and forged entries, entries obtained through deception of signers and whole pages of outright forged signatures."
The lawyers, who were aided by Democratic leaders in the state House of Representatives in a weeklong review of Nader's petitions, filed the challenges in state Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg on behalf of several individual voters. No hearing was immediately scheduled.
Both lawyers also cited examples of duplicate signatures, illegible signatures or addresses, and other alleged defects that they said invalidate the entries.
Nader campaign spokesman Kevin Zeese dismissed the allegations as "absolute nonsense."
"They're grasping at straws," he said Monday in a telephone interview from Washington.
Zeese said the Nader campaign reviewed the signatures before they were filed and discarded all that seemed legally questionable. He acknowledged finding "more than we would like to have found," but maintained that there remained more than enough valid signatures to get Nader on the ballot.
Less than three months before the election, Nader, a native of Winsted, Conn., is on the ballot in New Jersey and Nevada, and he is entitled to be listed as the Reform Party (search) nominee in six other states. He hopes to qualify in more than the 43 states in which he competed as the Green Party's presidential nominee in 2000.
In Pennsylvania, Nader supporters turned in more than 47,000 signatures, according to the lawsuit -- far more than the 25,697 that are required. Under state law, people who sign the petitions must be registered voters and list their addresses in order to be considered valid.
Most of the signatures were collected in Philadelphia, including many that were gathered by a contractor who paid petition circulators between 75 cents and $1 per signature, the lawyers said.
The lawyers submitted affidavits from people who said Nader's petition circulators made false statements to prospective signers, such as telling them their signature would simply confirm their voter registration or that it was necessary in order for them to get a registration card.
Democrats have said they are concerned that Nader's presence on the ballot could drain away support from their own nominee, and potentially cost him a crucial battleground state with the fifth-largest electoral prize.
"Unlike the Nader supporters who used deception and mischief to collect thousands of invalid signatures, we are being completely open about our intentions. Our goal is to help elect John Kerry the next president of the United States," said state House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese.
An independent Quinnipiac University poll (search) conducted last month showed Kerry leading President Bush in the state, 49 percent to 42 percent, in a two-way race. Adding Nader to the equation showed Kerry's support dwindling to 46 percent, compared to 41 percent for Bush and 5 percent for Nader.
Although DeWeese and Minority Whip Michael Veon had publicly vowed to challenge Nader's petitions since before they were filed, Grail and Harvey said they themselves recruited volunteers to review the petitions and did the legal work for free. Grail said the House Democrats provided a statewide list of registered voters and paid some of the copying expenses.