Story by Chris Graham
What are Virginia Democrats afraid of? Rick Johnson thinks he knows the answer.
“They’re scared, and they’re resorting to every trick in the book to keep Ralph Nader off the ballot wherever they can get away with it,” said Johnson, the media coordinator for Nader’s Virginia presidential campaign.
The tricks started coming to light last week when former Democratic Party executive director Jean Jensen, who is now the secretary of the State Board of Elections, rejected petitions containing more than 13,000 signatures collected by Nader campaign workers for the purpose of getting the candidate’s name on the Nov. 2 ballot in the Old Dominion.
Jensen based her decision on advice given to her by the office of Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore after she had advised Kilgore’s staff that the petitions had not been sorted by congressional district per board of elections guidelines.
Over the weekend, though, the attorney general’s office learned that the policy regarding the binding of petitions by congressional district was in fact not a valid policy at all. So on Monday, Kilgore’s senior assistant, James Hopper, changed the advice and told Jensen that she had to accept the petitions.
To sum up, in a span of 72 hours, we had the Naderites crying foul because their petitions had been rejected, then saw Democrats pointing fingers at Kilgore, a Republican who just so happens to be the chairman of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in Virginia …
“It’s ludicrous to even suggest that politics played a role in our handling of this. The reason we had to revisit this issue in the first place is because of the erroneous information that we had been given by the board of elections,” said Kilgore’s spokesman, Tim Murtaugh.
“The attorney general’s sole job in this make sure that the laws and policies of the board of elections and the Commonwealth of Virginia are followed to the letter of the law. The plain fact of the matter is that the board of elections can’t just make up the rules that it’s going to follow as it goes along,” Murtaugh told the AFP.
“You can’t just throw something up on your Web site and say that it’s a policy. There has to be a formal action of the board in place before something can be considered a policy, and that was not the case here,” Murtaugh said.
Based on that new information, the attorney general’s office amended its legal advice, Murtaugh said.
“When the understanding of the facts of the issue change, the legal advice based on those facts is going to change,” Murtaugh said.
“There are politics being played here, but it’s not by the attorney general’s office,” Murtaugh said.
Democratic Party of Virginia spokesperson Laura Bland told the AFP Wednesday morning that the party “stands for fair ballot access.” “However, I am not surprised that the attorney general has reversed himself, given the nationwide efforts of Republicans to assist Ralph Nader’s efforts to get on the ballot,” Bland said.
“We believe everybody should have the opportunity to be on the ballot as long as they follow the rules,” Bland said.
The Dems’ position on ballot access seemed to change later in the day on Wednesday when word hit the streets that party chairman Kerry Donley had requested in a letter that the board make sure that local registrars “compare petition signatures to voter-registration cards maintained in their offices to ensure that the signatures on Nader’s petitions are in fact valid” and also raised issue with whether or not the board should accept petitions not duly stamped and signed by a notary public in advance of the Aug. 20 filing deadline.
“Speaking for myself personally, I don’t think anybody is surprised to see these Democratic efforts to try to keep Ralph off the ballot,” Johnson said.
“It’s interesting given the advantages that they have in fund-raising and staff and volunteers,” Johnson said. “They have every advantage that you can name over us, and they still have to resort to cheap shots.
“I think it says a lot about the confidence that they have in their candidate. I think they know that if everything were equal, their candidate wouldn’t stand a chance against Ralph Nader,” Johnson said.
As things stand now, the board of elections is checking signatures on the ballot petitions under the gun of a Sept. 3 deadline for reaching a decision as to the certification of the Nader candidacy in the Commonwealth.
“We’re taking the approach that the ballot-access issue has been taken care of, so we’re focusing ourselves on getting the word out about the campaign, getting out the vote, educating the public to the campaign’s issues,” Johnson said.
“That’s one area where we will have a distinct advantage. The other campaigns aren’t talking at all about the issues. Their focus is on whose military-service record is the most legitimate and who between them has been the most negative. They’re not talking about the issues. They’re not focused at all on the issues facing the American people,” Johnson said.