TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In what could be a major defeat for Ralph Nader (search), a judge has issued a temporary order that keeps the independent presidential candidate off the Florida ballot.
Nader is trying to get on the ballot as the Reform Party's nominee, but Circuit Judge Kevin Davey agreed with Democrats who argued that the Reform Party (search) is not a legitimate national party and did not follow state law in giving Nader its nomination.
The ruling, issued late Wednesday night, prevents Secretary of State Glenda Hood from certifying Nader's place on the ballot until a full hearing takes place. Circuit Judge Kevin Davey strongly indicated Thursday that the order would become permanent, saying he wouldn't have issued it if he thought Nader and running mate Peter Camejo properly qualified for the ballot.
"I'm quite confident in the ruling. There's at least 15 reasons as to why they won't qualify, at least 15 that I counted up," Davey said during a status hearing. "If it was one or two, I'd be worried about it, but there's a whole lot of reasons Mr. Nader and Mr. Camejo aren't going to appear on the ballot in Florida."
Most Democrats and many Republicans agree that Nader's presence on the 2000 ballot may have cost Al Gore the presidency. President Bush won Florida by 537 votes. Nader received 97,421 votes. Exit polls indicate a majority of those votes likely would have gone to Gore.
This year, Democratic state parties have funded dozens of legal challenges to Nader's efforts to win ballot access, frustrating his supporters and draining his resources. He has already been knocked off the ballot in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Virginia, but has won a spot in more than 20 other states.
Hood's office sent a certified ballot to election supervisors Thursday without Nader's name, but included a memo stating that the list of presidential candidates may change. Her office is pressuring Davey to act quickly on the lawsuit because absentee ballots to military personnel and other citizens overseas must be mailed by Sept. 18.
While Davey indicated the Reform Party shouldn't be able to place Nader on the ballot, he wanted to give the party and Nader a chance to make their arguments before issuing a final ruling that is likely to come next week. Nader did not hire a lawyer to represent him in the case until Thursday.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Nader said the judge's decision is flawed and vowed to appeal if it becomes final.
"What's the irreparable damage?" Nader asked. "That Democrats might be subjected to competition by another candidacy? And (the judge) bought it."
The lawsuit, filed by the Florida Democratic Party and four voters, argues that the Reform Party is not a legitimate national party and that Nader failed to follow Florida election laws requiring minor candidates to qualify by petition or through a nominating convention.
Democrats argue that the Reform Party doesn't actively raise money or promote candidates and has only $18.18 in the bank.
Also Thursday, an Oregon judge ruled that Nader's name should appear on Oregon's ballot this fall, overturning a decision by the state's Democratic secretary of state. State Elections Director John Lindback said an appeal was planned.