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Thursday, Aug. 5, 2004 01:19 am

Nader’s challenge

In a last-ditch attempt to appear on the Illinois presidential ballot in November, independent candidate Ralph Nader is challenging the constitutionality of Illinois election law in federal court.

Nader's lawsuit, filed July 27 in U.S. District Court in Chicago, assails the state's early deadline to file petition nominations, and contends that Illinois' definition of a qualified voter "imposes significant burdens" on his campaign's First Amendment rights.

According to the suit, Nader's campaign filed some 32,500 signatures, exceeding the required 25,000, by the state's June 21 deadline -- which is the third earliest of any state. The Illinois Board of Elections refused to accept an additional 5,000 signatures the Nader campaign filed on July 8, the suit says.

In an attempt to keep Nader off the ballot, a registered voter from Chicago who is represented by lawyers of the state Democratic Party filed a formal objection to Nader's petitions early last month. The complainant contends some 19,000 signatures on Nader's nominating petitions are invalid, the suit says.

The majority of those objections maintain the signer was not registered to vote at the same address as listed on the petition sheet, according to the suit, which says it should be sufficient that the signer is registered "at some address in Illinois."

The suit seeks to have the court enter an injunction prohibiting Nader from being removed from the presidential ballot.

"Without Ralph Nader on the ballot in Illinois," the suit states, "citizens in the state and in the nation will lose the opportunity to participate in an expanded dialogue on pressing national issues, diluting the political process for all."

Nader, who in 2000 won 2.2 percent of the Illinois vote while running on the Green Party ticket, has filed similar lawsuits challenging state election laws in Michigan and Texas.

His campaign, which some Democrats fear could steal away votes from their presidential nominee, John Kerry, has submitted nominating petitions in at least 13 states, including key swing states like Colorado, Florida, Missouri, and Pennsylvania.

State Board of Elections spokesman Dan White says in 2000 Nader won a similar lawsuit in Illinois that enabled him to file more petition signatures after the state deadline had passed.

A preliminary hearing for Nader's campaign was scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 5.

In other political news, the Illinois Republican State Central Committee on Tuesday narrowed their search to replace former Republican U.S. Senate nominee Jack Ryan.

The new nominee to take on Democrat Barack Obama would be either Alan Keyes, a Maryland resident and two-time presidential nominee, or Andrea Grubb Barthwell, a political novice who served in President Bush's White House Office of Drug Control Policy.

The 19-member committee had not made its decision as of press time.

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