AUGUSTA (AP) – Maine’s secretary of state opened a public hearing Monday on challenges to independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader’s clearance for Maine ballots in November.

Challengers include the chairwoman of the Maine Democratic Party, Dorothy Melanson.

The secretary of state’s office has certified 4,128 voter signatures for Nader – 128 more than the minimum needed for ballot listing. Challengers have raised questions about the way signatures were obtained and indicated they may press their case on some of the petitions signature by signature.

The dispute over Nader’s signatures mirrors disputes in other states. In Maine, it is playing out against the backdrop of a 2000 election in which Democrat Al Gore defeated Republican George W. Bush by 49.1 percent to 44 percent.

In that contest, Ralph Nader was listed as a Green Independent in Maine and took 5.7 percent of the vote.

Ben Tucker of Brunswick, the second Nader challenger, who has worked on Democratic campaigns in the past, said he was asked to join this year’s challenge by a representative of

“I think this year that the gathering process is suspicious,” Tucker testified under oath Monday.

Nader supporter Nancy Oden derided “the common hysteria of anybody but Bush” and denounced “malicious bullying” by Democrats to keep Nader off the ballot and deprive his backers an opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice.

Nader’s bid to be listed as an independent candidate in Pennsylvania was rejected Monday by a judicial panel. Separately, officials in Missouri said that Nader won’t be on the presidential ballot there either.

Lawyer Harold Burbank, representing the Nader campaign in Maine, said Nader’s basic political motivation was to “give the people access” to government.

“Any mistakes were inadvertent,” Burbank said.

In Pennsylvania on Monday, a panel of three state judges rejected Nader’s bid to be listed as an independent candidate on that state’s presidential ballot, saying he forfeited that right by accepting the nomination of the national Reform Party.

In West Virginia, the state attorney general’s office went to court in an attempt to declare Nader’s ballot petitions invalid.

The Maine hearing was slated to resume Tuesday but even before concluding the opening day lawyers for both sides offered partial summations.

For the challengers’ team, Jonathan Piper cited lapses by petition circulators including a misidentification of a candidate for presidential elector. He also suggested Camejo’s enrollment as a Green Party member put him afoul of Maine law in seeking to run for office as an independent.

Burbank, offering the Nader camp’s argument, conceded procedural questions had arisen but urged the secretary of state’s hearing examiner not to look at the case solely for technicalities.

Problems may have arisen in applying for ballot status, he said, “but there has been no intention to circumvent the process.”

AP-ES-08-30-04 1907EDT

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