AUGUSTA (AP) – In a showdown holding potential to influence this fall’s presidential election in Maine, Democratic challengers seeking to keep Ralph Nader off state ballots wrapped up their arguments Tuesday before a secretary of state’s hearing officer.

A report by Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn is expected by late Thursday afternoon, with parties to the case having 24 hours after that to respond to her findings and recommendation.

A decision by Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky is due by the end of business Sept. 8. Whatever the outcome, the case could then move to Superior Court.

The challengers maintain that the Nader campaign failed to comply with elements of Maine’s ballot access requirements.

At issue, they suggested, are an absence of consent forms that should be filed on behalf of candidates and the misidentification of a candidate for presidential elector supporting the independent ticket of Nader and running mate Peter Camejo, whose Green Party membership was also cited as a possible source of “voter confusion.”

“The arguments we’re making … are not mere technicalities,” said a lawyer for the challengers, James Kilbreth. The ballot access requirements being cited “go to the heart of the integrity of the process,” he said.

The Nader campaign insists that any procedural failures were relatively inconsequential.

Attorney Harold Burbank argued that state election officials should act to uphold “freedom of choice” for voters.

“The Nader campaign respects the right to legitimate process,” he added, but said the state’s overriding concern was to provide “open, free and honest elections.”

The secretary of state’s office has certified 4,128 voter signatures for Nader – 128 more than the minimum needed for ballot listing.

Challengers to the validity of the Nader signatures include the chairwoman of the Maine Democratic Party, Dorothy Melanson.

Nader failed to secure a place on the Massachusetts presidential ballot, Secretary of State William Galvin announced on Tuesday.

In presidential voting in Maine four years ago, Nader was listed as a Green Independent and took 5.7 percent of the vote. Democrat Al Gore won the state with 49.1 percent of the vote, while Republican George W. Bush, en route to the White House, took 44 percent.

This year, the Green presidential candidate is David Cobb, with former Maine gubernatorial candidate Pat LaMarche paired with him as the party’s vice presidential choice.

The national Reform Party endorsed Nader in May, potentially providing him ballot access in at least seven states, including Florida and Michigan.

Maine has proven to be fertile ground for third party candidates in modern times, electing two independent governors.

Both of Democrat Bill Clinton presidential wins in Maine, in 1992 and 1996, coincided with strong showings by Ross Perot.

Challengers have suggested that some Nader petition signers may have been misled by petition circulators.

The Nader camp has rejected those charges.

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