The Virginia attorney general's office on Monday told the state Board of Elections to consider the petitions Ralph Nader submitted to get on the state's presidential ballot in November, overturning Friday's decision by the board.
The decision by Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) does not mean that Nader will be allowed on the Virginia ballot. But state elections officials must now validate that the independent candidate has 10,000 authentic signatures from registered voters and that he has received at least 400 signatures from each of the state's 11 congressional districts.
On Friday, Board of Elections Secretary Jean R. Jensen rejected Nader's petitions, saying that they did not conform with the board's rules because they were not grouped by congressional district.
But in a five-page letter to Jensen, Senior Assistant Attorney General James Hopper said that there is no such requirement because the rule was not properly ratified by the elections board. Although the rule is posted on the elections board's Web site, that did not make it a valid regulation, officials for the attorney general said.
"Just posting it on the Web site does not necessarily make it a rule," said Tim Murtaugh, Kilgore's spokesman. "That rule was never voted on by the board of elections."
Nader officials hailed the decision, saying they had been confident that they had followed the rules and were given contradictory information by elections officials Friday.
"We were very confident that we did everything correctly," said Jim Polk, head of Nader's campaign in the commonwealth.
A final decision on Nader's status in Virginia won't be made until next week, Jensen said in an interview.
The candidate has already been barred from the ballot in Maryland, and his status is still pending in the District.
The decision concerned some Democrats because they believe Nader's third-party candidacy is a threat in states where the balloting might be close. State Democrats have said they believe that Virginia is up for grabs, even though President Bush beat Al Gore by eight percentage points in 2000. Already, Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.) have visited the state several times.
A Democratic Party official was at the state Board of Elections offices Friday watching as Nader's workers organized their petitions. Party spokeswoman Laura Bland said Friday that she believed that the official witnessed rules being broken by Nader campaign workers and lodged a complaint with elections officials.
Bland, in an interview Monday, linked the decision by the attorney general's office to GOP efforts across the country to help Nader get on the ballot in contested states. Kilgore is chairman of the state committee to reelect Bush.
"I am not surprised the attorney general has reversed himself, given the nationwide effort by Republicans to assist Ralph Nader to get on the ballot," Bland said. "We believe that anyone should have the opportunity to be on the ballot as long as they follow the rules."
Murtaugh called Bland's comment "ludicrous. It's the attorney general's job to ensure that the law is being followed, and that's what we've done here," he said. "The Board of Elections thought it had one set of procedures on the books, but in fact they do not."