LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Republican Party says it has handed in 43,000 signatures to get presidential candidate Ralph Nader (search) on the state ballot, but a Nader spokesman says his candidate still plans to get on through the Reform Party (search), despite a disagreement over who represents the party in Michigan.
It is unclear what Nader will do about the GOP-collected signatures putting him on the ballot as an independent candidate. Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese initially said Thursday the campaign would not accept the signatures. He later said he wasn't sure that was still the case if turned out state officials wouldn't accept the Reform Party nomination.
"I'd have to talk to Ralph about that. It's such a legal minefield," Zeese said.
To get on the ballot as an independent candidate, Nader needed to submit 30,000 valid signatures by 4 p.m. Thursday. He has until Sept. 3 to get on the ballot as the Reform Party candidate. About 50,000 signatures were turned in by the deadline, state officials said.
Of those, Nader's own campaign turned in about 5,400 signatures. Zeese said the campaign stopped collecting signatures a month ago when the national Reform Party endorsed Nader and it looked as though Nader could get on the ballot as its candidate.
But complications arose when both John Muntz of Wyandotte and Matthew Crehan of Muskegon claimed to be the chairman of the Reform Party of Michigan. Muntz and Eleanor Renfrew, who says she's the party secretary, sent a certification of nomination for Nader to the state Bureau of Elections in late June.
Crehan on Wednesday said Muntz and Renfrew have no standing to nominate Nader because they're officers of the Independence Party of Michigan, which is affiliated with Reform Party USA but doesn't represent the Reform Party in Michigan.
Crehan said he's collecting affidavits to prove his group is the legitimate state party. His group will consider nominating Nader at its July 24 state convention, but Crehan said Nader doesn't have the nomination locked up.
Nader spokesman Zeese dismissed Crehan's claim as "nonsense" and said Muntz's group is the one recognized by the national Reform Party.
A Nader campaign lawyer has sent a letter to Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land noting that Reform Party National Chairman Shawn O'Hara said in a July 8 letter to Land that Crehan doesn't have legitimate claim to leadership in the Reform Party of Michigan.
The letter adds that Muntz serves on the Reform Party's national committee for the state of Michigan and says Nader has been legally nominated for the state ballot and should be on it.
But Land has said she can't accept Nader's nomination to the state ballot until the dispute over who heads the state Reform Party is resolved. She urged the two factions to settle on an official state chairperson and secretary who could file the nomination certificate.
"The national group can't say who's in charge of the (state) party," Secretary of State spokeswoman Kelly Chesney said Thursday. "The determination of who's the party chair is made by the locals."
Zeese said Land's refusal to accept Muntz's nomination "is kind of absurd."
"It seems so arbitrary and indefensible for them not to put us on for the Reform Party when you have the national party and the only recognized state party saying, `Put him on,"' he said.
McNeilly said Republicans collected 43,000 signatures in two weeks at music festivals, sports events and GOP offices to get Nader on the ballot. If Nader declines those signatures, he would have to withdraw his candidacy as an independent by next Monday.
Michigan Democratic Party leaders have asked Nader to refuse the signatures collected by the GOP. They say Republicans want Nader on the state ballot only to draw votes away from Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. They plan to check the validity of all 50,000 signatures.
"What we have found in other states is, even though they filed a large number of signatures, a high share of those signatures were invalid. So ... that's no guarantee they'll get (Nader) on the ballot," said state Democratic Executive Chairman Mark Brewer.
McNeilly of the GOP said it's hard to say if Nader would take votes away from Kerry, but added, "obviously if that happened, it wouldn't make me sad."
The Nader campaign submitted signatures in South Carolina and Delaware Thursday to get Nader and running mate Peter Camejo on the ballots in those states.