AUGUSTA – A hearing officer Thursday issued a recommendation that Ralph Nader’s name stay on the November ballot as an independent presidential candidate.

The recommendation, issued late Thursday, said that challenges to Nader’s candidacy did not provide enough evidence to invalidate petitions that were submitted to the secretary of state’s office to get him on the ballot.

The recommendation is not the final word, but is still a blow to those who want Nader off the ballot so he won’t take away votes from Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky has until the end of next Wednesday to issue a final decision.

Challengers maintained that the Nader campaign failed to comply with elements of Maine’s ballot access requirements. Parties to the case have until the end of Friday to respond to the recommendation, and the case could end up going to Superior Court.

Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, who acted as the hearing officer during two days of hearings this week, wrote: “Since there were 4,124 valid signatures on the nomination petition submitted to the Secretary of State’s office for these candidates, the number of valid signatures is more than the minimum required.”

In the presidential voting in Maine in 2000, Nader was listed as a Green Independent and got 5.7 percent of the vote. Democrat Al Gore took 49.1 percent of the vote, while Republican George W. Bush took 44 percent.

Many Democrats said that Nader’s presence on other state ballots in 2000 took votes away from Gore and allowed Bush to win the election.

This year, Nader is seeking to be an independent candidate on the Maine ballot, with Peter Camejo as his running mate.

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

Challenges were filed in Maine by Dorothy Melanson, chairwoman of the Maine Democratic Party, and Ben Tucker, a Brunswick resident who said he filed the challenge at the request of the group

Melanson said she was disappointed with the recommendation and that attorneys were working on a response. Further decisions will be made after Gwadosky issues his decision next week.

“We’ll make a decision then on whether to go forward in court,” Melanson said.

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