Published September 17, 2004
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Ralph Nader (search) is back on Florida's ballot — probably for good this time.
The decision met a Saturday deadline for mailing 25,000 ballots to overseas voters, most of them military personnel, and ended a dizzying two weeks during which Nader was on and off the ballot.
"This is a case that should have been thrown out of the courts sooner," said Kevin Zeese, a spokesman for the Nader campaign.
Also Friday, a judge ruled that Nader would stay on the presidential ballot in Colorado. In New Mexico, a judge barred Nader from appearing on the state's ballot.
As the Green Party (search) candidate in 2000, Nader attracted 97,000 Florida votes — and most Democrats and many Republicans agree that those votes cost Democrat Al Gore the presidency.
President Bush won the state by 537 votes after three weeks of recounts and legal fighting — much of it before Florida's high court.
This year, the Reform Party of Florida submitted Nader to the state as its candidate. The Florida Democratic Party and several individual voters challenged his certification.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe issued a statement Friday saying: "The fact that Ralph Nader secured a place on the Florida ballot by means of the Pat Buchanan Reform Party speaks for itself. In state after state, Nader has become an extension of the Republican Party and their corporate backers."
The key legal challenge against Nader was the contention that the Reform Party was no longer a bona fide national party and didn't nominate Nader in a national convention — as required by Florida law — but did it in a conference call three months earlier.
Officials with the party and Nader argued that the Reform Party convention may have been small but that it had legitimately confirmed him as their presidential nominee.
The Reform Party formed in 1995 out of Ross Perot's 1992 and 1996 presidential bids; Buchanan ran as its candidate in 2000. But the party has seen its membership decline amid infighting in recent years. Its national treasurer last month said the party had $18.18 in the bank.
A state judge last week ordered Secretary of State Glenda Hood, Florida's top elections official, to strike Nader from the ballot. Hood, who was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush, complied.
But when Hood appealed that order, an automatic suspension was triggered. So Nader was back on the ballot.
On Wednesday, Circuit Judge Kevin Davey again ordered Hood to take Nader off as the case was appealed to the state's high court.
Now, he is back on after the Supreme Court's decision.
Mark Herron, an attorney for the Democrats, said appealing the decision was unlikely.
The Reform Party of Florida greeted the decision with relief, said spokesman Patrick Slevin.
Alia Faraj, a spokeswoman for Hood, said elections supervisors would be able to meet Saturday's deadline.
"All along the secretary's goal ... was finality," Faraj said.
In Friday's majority opinion, Florida's high court wrote that it couldn't tell whether state lawmakers wanted the terms "national party" and "national convention" interpreted strictly or broadly.
"In the absence of more specific statutory criteria or guidance from the Legislature, we are unable to conclude that a statutory violation occurred," the court wrote.
Nader is now planning a nine-city tour of Florida at the end of the month, starting in Jacksonville and working his way south to Miami.