LANSING, Mich. – In an about face, Ralph Nader (search) decided Monday to accept thousands of petition signatures collected by Michigan Republicans if that's the only way he can qualify for the state's presidential ballot.
Last Thursday, Michigan Republican Party (search) officials submitted 43,000 signatures — far more than the 30,000 needed — to ensure Nader could appear on the ballot as an independent. Republicans began collecting signatures after it appeared that Nader might not get on the ballot as the Reform Party's (search) candidate for president.
Nader's campaign had turned in about 5,400 signatures. But spokesman Kevin Zeese said it stopped collecting them a month ago after the national Reform Party endorsed Nader and it looked as though he could get on the ballot as its candidate.
But there has been a growing dispute over who controls the Reform Party in Michigan. One group claiming to be the legitimate Reform Party of Michigan plans to nominate a presidential candidate for the ballot at its state convention Saturday. Chairman Matthew Crehan, of Muskegon, Mich., has said there is no guarantee Nader will get that nomination.
A group headed by John Muntz, of Wyandotte, Mich., which also claims to be the legitimate state Reform Party, already has nominated Nader for the spot on the state ballot. Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land has said she can't accept that nomination until the dispute over who controls the state Reform Party is resolved.
Zeese said the goal is to get Nader on Michigan's ballot — however it happens.
"We're going to continue to pursue the Reform Party, but we're not going to close off the independent option at this time while the Reform Party has not decided" who is in charge, he said.
Michigan Democratic Party leaders have asked Nader to refuse the signatures, saying Republicans want him on the ballot only to draw votes away from Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
"We urge Nader to reject this Republican political trick and demonstrate that he is still a man with great integrity who honors his own beliefs," Michigan Democratic Executive Chairman Mark Brewer said.
Zeese initially said last week that the campaign would refuse the GOP signatures. He later said he wasn't sure that was still the case if it turned out state officials wouldn't accept the Reform Party nomination.
Brewer said Nader's decision not to withdraw as an independent will force the party to file a federal election complaint against Nader's campaign and the Michigan Republican Party, which it contends exceeded a state political party campaign limit of $5,000 in helping Nader get on the ballot.
State GOP Executive Director Greg McNeilly said last week that the party didn't exceed any campaign spending limits because it collected most of the signatures through volunteers.
Democrats also plan to check the validity of all signatures and challenge any they find in error. Any challenges must be filed by Thursday afternoon.
"A close inspection of the petitions revealed numerous instances of petition fraud made by Republican Party staffers," Brewer said Monday in a statement.