Remarks of John Murphy, Pennsylvania coordinator of the 2004 Ralph Nader campaign, at the kickoff rally for the Voter’s Choice Act
or, how Pennsylvania's egregious ballot access laws were used by the Democratic party to destroy the 2004 Nader campaign
Harrisburg State Capitol
September 24, 2005
Ladies and gentlemen there are two ways you can destroy democracy. One way is by preventing people from voting, the other is by preventing worthy candidates from ever appearing on the ballot. In the 2004 presidential elections the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania chose the second method by using our already egregious ballot access laws in such a way that can only be called political profiling.
Here in Pennsylvania, the Democratic Party sued the Nader campaign in twelve separate courts simultaneously in their efforts to prevent Pennsylvania citizens from voting for the candidate of their choice. This indicates the magnitude of the effort to thwart the democratic process in Pennsylvania. Not just one lawsuit in one court but twelve suits in twelve separate courts simultaneously! The greater the level of the challenge, the more havoc that can be created! The very basis by which we aspire as a democratic nation to put people on the election ballot has now been turned into the very basis by which we have kept someone off the ballot! When the kind and magnitude of resources which the Democratic Party marshaled in Pennsylvania are designed to keep someone off the ballot, the very magnitude of that effort itself indicates that, under any conception of a democratic system, it is that very person who should be on the ballot.
Consider what actually happened in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania law required that Ralph Nader obtain nearly 27,000 signatures but unlike the 2000 election Mr. Nader had no organization in place like the Green Party to help him. The Nader campaign hired a contractor who would be able to organize the signature gathering process. This contractor then placed an ad in the newspaper announcing that people were needed to gather signatures for Mr. Nader's petition and that a fee of one dollar per signature would be paid for this job.
When the people who were engaged to perform this function began to turn in the petitions, the Nader workers noticed that the signatures were obviously forged. (It could be seen that maybe three or four people simply passed these petitions back-and-forth to one another copying names directly from the phone book.) While many of these petitions were pulled, nevertheless many still went undetected because of insufficient time for examination. When these petitions were brought to the attention of Mr. Nader's attorney in open court they were voluntarily removed.
As the law suits were unfolding one of the Nader campaign workers parked his car in the street outside of Nader headquarters. His car was clearly identifiable as belonging to a Nader supporter by displaying a number of Nader bumper stickers. A person who is now unidentified pulled up next to the Nader worker and asked if indeed he was with the Nader campaign. When he responded “yes” this unidentified driver then said to him, "you know what happened to you here in Philadelphia don't you". The Nader worker said "no, what". He was then told that "you people were paying a dollar per valid signature but the mayor's office is paying two dollars to forge each name". "Now we got you" he said, "now you're going to have to go into court, present these signatures and you'll have to claim that they are valid and since you didn't pay us for them, now we're going to sue you because they're invalid".
A law firm working for the Democratic Party even engaged a computer scientist to compose a proprietary piece of software just in order to examine Mr. Nader's petitions! They then went about the process of challenging 35,000 of Nader's signatures. When you challenge 35,000 signatures you overwhelm the system. It is unheard of for anyone to engage a computer scientist to develop a piece of proprietary software specifically to keep someone off the ballot. No such challenges were made to the Green Party candidate’s signatures since he was not perceived as a threat by the Democrats.
When one of the major political parties commits those kinds of resources specifically for the purpose of removing an independent candidate it is incontestably an effort to destroy the democratic election process. This is precisely what Mr. Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, promised and precisely what he delivered. The Democratic Party successfully ended free elections not only in Pennsylvania but across the nation by fulfilling their promise to dry up Mr. Nader's funds through a series of legal maneuvers that would prevent the candidate from ever getting his message to the people of Pennsylvania and any other state.
These efforts to destroy the democratic election process could have happened only under a set of ballot access laws which required such an extraordinary burden of collecting 27,000 signatures while the candidates from the major political parties had no signature requirements at all! Imagine the ease of destroying our democracy in Pennsylvania next year when statewide candidates will be required to get over 67,000 signatures on their nominating petitions!
When eleven lawyers show up in a courtroom in order to keep a candidate off the ballot, that is proof positive that you have matched the statutory requirements to be a nonfrivolous candidate with community support which is what ballot access laws were really intended to ensure!
In all, 32,681 signatures were rejected. Nader’s campaign was only short 6,879 valid signatures. In the final analysis however only 1.4% of the signatures were rejected as forgeries! The other signatures were all rejected because of poor handwriting, or because a husband filled in the address for both he and his wife or because they forgot to include their middle initial or they signed their name as William Smith then printed it as Bill Smith or forgot to include the date!
There is a question that begs to be answered. "Is the ballot access system in Pennsylvania a process that truly protects the interests of Pennsylvania voters?"
As a result of the 2004 election we now have a model. All we have to do is engage the archaic and burdensome ballot access laws and challenge the legitimacy of every signature on any conceivable basis with potentially dozens of lawsuits. It is not even necessary to win the suits. We can successfully destroy any challenge from any "third party" or Independent candidate by completely draining their resources and make it impossible for them to deliver their message to the people. The burdensome and archaic ballot access laws in Pennsylvania which encourage this kind of discrimination and political chicanery against "third party" and independent candidates must come to an end.