Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) said Thursday that Ralph Nader's bid for a place on the state's presidential ballot in November should be held to the same requirements as other political parties that have petitioned to be on the ballot.
On his monthly radio show on WRVA here, Warner echoed the concerns of Virginia Democrats who said this week that because two minority political parties were required to submit their qualifying petitions by congressional district, Nader should do the same.
On Monday, Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) said a regulation requiring petitions to be organized by congressional district was invalid because it was never adopted formally by the state Board of Elections. Kilgore's ruling reversed the board's decision to void Nader's petitions because the signatures were not listed by district.
"I think the bottom line is that the rules ought to be clear, they ought to apply to everyone who wants to get themselves on the ballot," Warner said. Referring to the Libertarian and Constitution parties, which submitted their signatures by congressional district, he added: "The same rules that apply to Nader ought to apply to . . . anybody else who wants on."
The governor's comments come as debate over Nader's Virginia petitions has become more partisan. Nader has submitted 12,923 signatures, which will be checked for authenticity by local elections boards before next week's deadline, said Jean R. Jensen, secretary of the state board. To appear on the ballot, the consumer advocate needs 10,000 valid signatures -- including at least 400 from each of the state's 11 congressional districts.
The Nader campaign filed the signatures in no particular order, Jensen said, while the other minority parties sorted them by district.
Warner acknowledged that Democrats and Republicans are fighting over Nader's state campaign because each side believes that the fate of his candidacy may hold the key to its presidential ticket's fortunes in Virginia. State Democrats say that with John F. Kerry, they have a chance to win Virginia in November for the first time since 1964. Republicans have scoffed at that assertion, but Nader supporters confirmed Thursday that Republicans have offered to help them get Nader on the ballot.
"While some . . . have said the Democrats are trying to keep Nader off the ballot, I think the counter is also true," Warner said on the radio show. "I think you've got an awful lot of Republicans who are actively trying to help Nader get on the ballot because . . . the conventional political wisdom here is that Nader will take votes from John Kerry and because Virginia, for the first time in many years, is going to be competitive."
Warner's comments capped off nearly a week of political and procedural squabbling here among Democrats, Nader's campaign workers and the attorney general's office. Nader's supporters have noted that Jensen, who originally rejected Nader's petitions, is the former executive director of the Virginia Democratic Party, while Democrats note that Kilgore, who reversed Jensen's opinion, is chairman of the Virginia campaign to reelect President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
Virginia Democrats also pointed out Thursday that Nader's state campaign director, Jim Polk, has voted in three Republican primaries over the last eight years. He also worked on a GOP state delegate's campaign several years ago.
"The knowledge that he's voted in Republican primaries speaks to what Republicans nationwide are trying to do in getting Nader on state ballots," said Laura Bland, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Democratic Party.
Polk acknowledged that he is a former Republican but said he was a Democrat before that. Most recently, he said, he worked with the state's Green Party.
On Wednesday, Virginia's Democratic Party chairman, Kerry J. Donley, wrote a letter to the Board of Elections raising concerns that the Nader campaign's petitions included invalid signatures and were improperly notarized. Polk said Thursday that the state board has unfairly invalidated some signatures on Nader's petitions.
In an interview Thursday, Jensen defended her office's work. "We have absolutely no interest in keeping anyone off the ballot," she said.