Democratic Party Should Live Up to Its Name
Though the Democrats have the right to robustly oppose my independent presidential campaign, they don’t have the right to engage in dirty tricks designed to deny millions of voters the opportunity to choose who should be the next president.
But that’s what is happening. Across the country, the Democratic Party, state Democratic partisans, corporate lobbyists and law firms are making an unprecedented effort to keep the Nader-Camejo ticket off the ballot. It’s a sordid, undemocratic tactic, an affront to voters and a threat to electoral choice.
We are the only serious candidates calling for a rapid withdrawal from Iraq. We’re the only ones highlighting how corporate control of the federal government has prevented healthcare for all Americans and how it has stymied passage of a wage that full-time workers can live on, as well as focusing on a host of other crucial but ignored issues. The so-called pro-choice Democrats do not want voters to have a political choice; they want them stuck with only two candidates. Democrats and corporate lobbyists conducted training sessions during the Democratic convention to plan a national campaign to keep Nader-Camejo off the ballot in as many states as possible. Participants were told that the most effective way to discourage people from signing our ballot-access petitions was to spread the rumor that the GOP supports our campaign in hopes of diverting Democratic voters.
That’s untrue. We estimate that less than 10% of the individuals contributing $1,000 or more are Republicans, while exit polls from 2000 show that nearly 25% of Nader voters were registered Republicans.
The real meddling in our campaign has come not from Republicans but from Democrats, with, as a Democratic National Committee official told me, the DNC’s approval. This includes:
* Spoiling our ballot access convention in Oregon by filling the auditorium with Democrats to undermine the convention by swelling the numbers and then not signing the petitions.
* Hiring corporate law firms to block our ballot efforts with litigation on frivolous technical grounds. In Arizona, 1,400 signatures were challenged because the signatories, although giving their complete address, did not include the name of their county. We could not afford to pay defense counsel and incur delays.
* Trying to exclude thousands of signatures in Illinois because the signatories had moved since registering to vote -- even though they still lived in Illinois and even though they were still registered voters.
* Inappropriately using state employees, contractors and interns who work for Illinois’ Democratic speaker of the state House to review and challenge signatures on our ballot access petitions.
Not only are these efforts an attempt to deprive voters of choices in 2004 but, unless repulsed, they will set a precedent for undermining future third-party and independent candidates.
Historically, non-major party campaigns have brought major paradigm shifts in the United States. For example, it was the Abolitionist Party that challenged the pro-slavery Whig and Democratic parties in the 1840s. Abraham Lincoln was the most successful third-party candidate, winning election when he criticized slavery.
Other third-party candidates brought the issues of women’s right to vote, trade unions, ending child labor, the 40-hour workweek, Social Security, Medicaid and Progressive-era reforms into the electoral arena.
Since the 19th century, barriers to getting on the ballot have actually increased, with candidates given less time to collect the tens of thousands of verified signatures required in state after state.
And apparently, even these statutory barriers are not enough for the Democratic Party operatives.
It is incumbent on Democratic nominee John Kerry to put a stop to it. He should realize that obstructing ballot access in this manner is a violation of civil liberties.
Ralph Nader is an independent candidate for president and author of the book, “The Good Fight -- Declare Your Independence and Close the Democracy Gap” (HarperCollins, 2004).