AUGUSTA -Maine’s secretary of state ruled Wednesday that Ralph Nader’s name should stay on ballots in Maine as an independent candidate for president in November.

In affirming a recommendation by a staff hearing officer, Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky rejected challenges to ballot listings for Nader and running mate Peter Camejo that had been brought by two Democratic activists, including Maine Democratic Party Chairwoman Dorothy Melanson.

The challengers maintained that the Nader campaign had failed to comply with some of Maine’s ballot access requirements.

Disputed issues included an absence of consent forms from candidates and the misidentification of a candidate for presidential elector, as well as allegations of improper conduct by petition circulators.

The Nader campaign denied wrongdoing and maintained that any procedural failures were relatively inconsequential.

“The recommendations of the hearing officer are consistent with the manner in which the secretary of state has interpreted and applied the relevant statutory provisions regarding nomination by petition and the collection and validation of signatures in other contexts,” Gwadosky wrote in a formal four-paragraph decision.

“The secretary of state therefore adopts the report and the recommendations of (the) hearing officer and rejects the challenges to the petitions filed on behalf of the slate of presidential electors for Ralph Nader and Peter M. Camejo,” Gwadosky wrote.

Challengers have five days to go to Superior Court to pursue an appeal.

“I’m disappointed. I’ll be consulting with the attorneys first thing in the morning,” Melanson said.

Nader campaign spokesman Kevin Zeese said it would be “foolish” for Democrats to continue to try to take Nader off Maine ballots.

“They’re looking so anti-democratic,” he said, adding that Nader would “give voters in Maine a real choice.”

Gwadosky, a Democratic former speaker of the Maine House of Representatives who has been elected secretary of state four times by the Maine Legislature, upheld a recommendation put forth last Thursday by Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, who had presided at a public hearing on the Democratic challenges.

Flynn had found that consent requirements apply to presidential electors, not candidates for office, and that the misidentification of a presidential elector was not enough to invalidate petitions.

“The challengers also did not present sufficient evidence to support a finding that there was widespread fraud, deliberate concealment or misleading of voters by petitions circulators,” Flynn wrote in her Sept. 2 report.

The secretary of state’s office certified 4,128 voter petition signatures for Nader – 128 more than the minimum needed for ballot listing – on Aug. 16.

Nader was listed as a Green Independent in Maine’s presidential balloting four years ago and got 5.7 percent of the vote. Democrat Al Gore took 49.1 percent of the vote and won the state’s four electoral votes, while Republican George W. Bush 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.

Democrats and Republicans both regard Maine as winnable in this year’s presidential election. Complicating political calculations is Maine’s openness to independent candidacies.

The state has elected two independents to the governorship in modern times – James Longley Sr. in the mid-1970s and Angus King twice in the 1990s.

Both of Democrat Bill Clinton’s wins in Maine, in 1992 and 1996, coincided with strong showings by Ross Perot. Perot outpolled President George H.W. Bush, the current chief executive’s father, by 316 votes in 1992 to claim second place.

The executive director of the Maine Republican Party, Dwayne Bickford, chided Democrats for opposing Nader’s presence on the ballot while saying Nader would draw votes from both President Bush and Democrat John Kerry.

“He pulls from both candidates,” Bickford said. “Republicans, Democrats, independents sign his petitions.”

AP-ES-09-08-04 1716EDT

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