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Nader supporters file petitions to put him on Minnesota ballot
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Supporters of independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader submitted petitions Monday to have his name appear on the Minnesota ballot. (MPR file photo)
Organizers for independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader Monday submitted almost 5,000 signatures in support of putting Nader on the Minnesota ballot this fall. That's nearly two-and-a-half times as many names as required -- but Nader campaign workers say the buffer is necessary as protection against possible legal action by Democrats and their allies.

St. Paul, Minn. — Danene Provencher of Mound, Minnesota, has been a staunch Nader supporter for years -- and since early July, she's led a statewide effort to gather thousands of signatures to put him on the ballot.

Minnesota only requires 2,000 signatures -- far below the thresholds set in other states that can demand tens of thousands of names. But Provencher says a lingering distrust complicated the job. She says Nader volunteers often met angry resistance from Democrats who blame Nader for George W. Bush's victory in 2000.

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Image Turning in the petitions

"Some things I can't even repeat," Provencher says, noting that some people cursed at the volunteers. "'Spoiler,'" they were called. "'You're working for George Bush.' Quite an array. Months and months of very hard work doing this."

Four years ago, Nader earned just over 5 percent of the presidential vote in Minnesota. Recent polls show him drawing only 2 percent of likely voters this time. But in a close race, a few percentage points can make a significant difference, and many Democrats believe Nader is unwittingly advancing Bush's cause by siphoning votes from John Kerry.

Nader volunteer Tim Davis says that analysis is flawed. Davis worked the Nader booth at the Minnesota State Fair, where a large share of the signatures were gathered.

"I'm not going to vote for Bush or Kerry, so I want somebody to vote for," says Davis. "I would have to be looking for another third party, minor party, or not vote at all. Maybe vote for local races, but skip the presidential. So, no, he does not take my vote away from John Kerry or George W. Bush."

The Nader camp collected 4,781 signatures in Minnesota -- far above what's required to put him on the ballot. Davis and Provencher say that was a defensive move to protect against legal challenges.

We want to tell the two parties to get off our backs, and not entangle their campaigns in our campaign, and just let us try to compete for the votes of the American people, with good arguments and good discussion, and good model campaigning that's clean.
- Ralph Nader

Democrats and their allies have successfully questioned the legitimacy of Nader's signatures and other filings in states across the country, including Arizona, Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Many of those petitions remain tied up in the courts, in what Nader supporters say is a cynical attempt to stifle an independent candidacy.

In Minnesota, DFL chairman Mike Erlandson has said he reserves the right to examine the Nader petition lists and take appropriate legal action if necessary. But the group says it won't wait to scrutinize the list. Jenna Norwood is a spokeswoman for the group, which is a branch of the political action committee Democratic Action Team.

"As soon as he turns his petitions in, we'll start reviewing them to make sure they're legitimate. And we'll do in Minnesota what we've done in other states," says Norwood. "We're calling this Project Petition Watch. We're making sure that Ralph Nader and his Republican buddies follow the rules. Because if Nader wants to be the leader of the free world, he should be able to collect 2,000 legitimate signatures in Minnesota."

A staple complaint of many Democrats is that Nader is receiving behind-the-scenes -- and in some cases, overt -- assistance from Republican allies who also believe his candidacy hurts Kerry and strengthens Bush. In Oregon and Wisconsin, conservative groups have encouraged their members to support Nader's attempts to appear on the ballot.

There's no obvious sign, however, that Republican-oriented groups have assisted Nader in Minnesota. Last week, Nader told Minnesota Public Radio that any help he's received from Republicans has been sporadic and unorchestrated.

"We want to tell the two parties to get off our backs and not entangle their campaigns in our campaign," Nader says. "And just let us try to compete for the votes of the American people, with good arguments and good discussion, and good model campaigning that's clean."

Potential legal challenges -- from the DFL or -- could take more than a week to formalize. In the meantime, the Minnesota Secretary of State's office will examine the petitions to weed out any obviously illegitimate signatures. And Nader himself will be campaigning later this week in Minnesota, with stops in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

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