Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, September 2, 2010


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Court: Hawaii Legally Kept Nader Off Ballot in 2004


By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer


The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday threw out Ralph Nader’s lawsuit against the State of Hawaii for denying him a spot on the ballot in the 2004 presidential election.

A three-judge panel said that Hawaii law requiring independent candidates to gather signatures to appear on the ballot, but not imposing the same requirement on major political party candidates, did not violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments or equal protection.

Nader, the Green Party nominee for president in 2000, ran independently in 2004, but was denied a spot on Hawaii’s ballot when he failed to gather enough valid signatures. Joined by running make Ralph Camejo, 2004 Constitution Party candidate Michael Peroutka and his running mate Chuck Baldwin, and others, Nader filed suit alleging the differing requirements were unconstitutional.  

Under Hawaii law, independent or nonpartisan presidential candidates can gain access to the ballot by applying 60 days before the election and submitting a petition containing the signatures of no less than 1 percent of the votes cast in the last presidential election. Nader and the other plaintiffs sought ballot access under this method, but Hawaii officials determined that none of them submitted enough valid signatures, which in 2004 was set at 3,711.

“Qualified” political parties can place presidential candidates on the Hawaii ballot by filing a sworn application 60 days before the general election, including the candidate’s name and address, and a statement that the candidate meets constitutional requirements for the office. The application must also include a statement that a candidate is the “duly chosen” candidate “of both the state and national party,” and detail the time, place and manner of the candidate’s selection.

In order to become “qualified,” a party must submit a petition 170 days before a primary election declaring an intent to form a statewide party, including the name, signature, address, birth date and other details of currently registered voters making up less than one tenth of 1 percent of the total registered voters as of the last general election. Parties that achieve qualified status for three consecutive general election cycles are deemed a political party for the following 10 years.

U.S. District Judge Alan C. Kay of the District of Hawaii rejected the plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge, granting summary judgment in favor of Hawaii’s chief election officer. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit panel agreed in a per curiam opinion by Senior Judge Betty B. Fletcher and Judges Harry Pregerson and Richard R. Clifton.

The judges reasoned that the state’s burden on independent candidates, on its own, was minimal, and wrote that the burden was not severe when viewed in light of the provisions for establishing qualified party status, which applied regardless of the office sought.

Concluding, as a result, that strict scrutiny was not applicable, the judges said that the requirements on independent presidential candidates did not violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments because they were rationally related to a legitimate state interest.

Pointing to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1972 decision in Bullock v. Carter, 405 U.S. 134, the judges explained:

“The Supreme Court consistently has held that states have ‘a legitimate interest in regulating the number of candidates on the ballot…to prevent the clogging of its election machinery, avoid voter confusion, and assure that the winner is the choice of a majority, or at least a strong plurality, of those voting, without the expense and burden of runoff elections.’ ”

The judges similarly rejected the plaintiffs’ equal protection challenge, reasoning that even if they accepted the argument that independent and major party presidential candidates were “similarly situated,” independent presidential candidates were not subject to a scheme that was inherently more burdensome.

The case is Nader v. Cronin, 08-16444.


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