-- Virginia election officials on Tuesday denied a spot on November's presidential ballot to independent candidate Ralph Nader, and an independent review of the signatures he submitted suggests that thousands of them were collected illegally by people who do not live in Virginia.
Jean R. Jensen, secretary of the State Board of Elections, said Tuesday that registrars across the state had verified 7,342 signatures for Nader, well short of the required 10,000. Candidates for the Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party collected the required number of signatures and will appear on the ballot, Jensen said.
Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese vowed a review of the signatures that were rejected in Virginia, saying the campaign would "check and see if they got it right, and if they didn't, we'll sue them."
Democrats nationwide have worked openly to keep Nader off the presidential ballot in the belief that he would siphon votes from their party's nominee, Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry.
Questions about the validity of signatures and allegations of fraud have prompted challenges in Michigan, Maine, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Iowa and Oregon. As of Tuesday, Nader had secured a place on the ballot in 22 states and the District. Maryland officials ruled that Nader's signature-collection efforts fell short there, but his campaign is seeking a review.
In an opinion article in Sunday's Washington Post, Nader accused "swarms of Democratic Party lawyers, propagandists, harassers and assorted operatives" of waging "an unsavory war against my campaign's effort to secure a spot on the presidential ballots."
In Virginia, Democratic lawyers who pored over copies of the Nader petitions last week noticed that more than a dozen people who circulated signature petitions did not appear to live in Virginia, as required by state law.
A subsequent review by The Post of hundreds of pages of Nader petitions found that at least 18 people whose names appear as collectors listed addresses that correspond to a hotel or motel in the state. Those petitions account for more than 2,000 signatures.
In Virginia, collecting signatures for a petition without being a registered voter in the state, or intending to become one, is a felony punishable by as much as 10 years in prison and a fine of as much as $2,500.
Jensen said the board's rejection of Nader's petitions had nothing to do with the collectors. Instead, the board focused on the people who signed the documents. She said nearly half of the 13,000 signatures submitted by Nader's campaign "were either residents of Virginia but not registered to vote, residents of other states or totally illegible."
Jensen, a former executive director of the state Democratic Party, said she was not aware that many of the petitions turned in by Nader's campaign were circulated by people who listed hotels and motels as their addresses. "If anyone who circulated petitions, if anything inappropriate was done, yes, that would invalidate every signature on the petition," she said.
But she said it would be up to individual registrars who suspect fraud to refer cases to local prosecutors. None had done so with regard to signature collectors, she said.
Signature collectors sign their names and write their "resident address" at the bottom of each petition sheet, swearing under penalty of law that "I am, or am eligible to be, a registered and qualified voter in Virginia."
Zeese said Nader's campaign required that signature collectors sign an affidavit stating that they planned to move to Virginia if they were not already registered to vote there.
"We have those affidavits or registrations," he said. "We wanted to make sure we followed the law. You don't have to be a registered voter in Virginia. You have to be a potential voter. The intent to live here was sufficient."
Zeese also renewed the Nader campaign's criticism of Jensen, who initially refused to accept Nader's petitions last month, citing rules requiring that the signatures be grouped by congressional district. Jensen later accepted the petitions for review, at the direction of state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, a Republican.
Jensen's actions, Zeese said Tuesday, "blatantly showed her true colors."
Jensen responded: "I hold my head up very high. In the 21/2 years I've been in this job, I've never, ever done anything partisan."
The Post's review of Nader's petitions found that three signature collectors appear to have stayed at a Quality Inn in Ashland, four at a Super 8 Motel in Fredericksburg and three at the Red Roof Inn in Troutville. Other hotels included the Roanoke Days Inn, the Days Inn Alexandria and the Best Value Inn in Chesapeake. Desk clerks at several of those hotels or motels said none of the people listed on the petition is currently checked in.
Attempts to reach most of the collectors were unsuccessful because they had checked out of the hotels.
Kendle Greenlee, who collected signatures for Nader, listed his address as 991 Millwood Pike in Winchester, the location of the Red Roof Inn there.
Contacted at his home in Texas, Greenlee declined to comment.
One Nader collector, who declined to be identified because he collects petitions for a living, said the Nader campaign brought in people to collect signatures in the District of Columbia and Virginia. He said the campaign required that collectors sign a letter stating that they intended to move to Virginia, even though for most of them that wasn't true.
"In all fairness, everyone does it," he said. "I do think the law, it shouldn't be that way. [But] it's up to the people to change it."