The effort to place Ralph Nader's name on the Massachusetts presidential ballot this fall is "in serious trouble," the state's top election official said yesterday, a sign that the third-party candidate's troubles have extended even to the generally liberal Bay State.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin said yesterday that "it is in doubt" that the Nader campaign will get the required 10,000 certified voter signatures necessary to get the presidential candidate's name to appear alongside that of President Bush and US Senator John F. Kerry on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Galvin attributed the problem to the campaign's failure to meet Tuesday's deadline to submit signatures for certification at local city and town halls because many of the papers were mailed too late and missed the legally established 5 p.m. deadline.
"Because of mistakes made by his campaign in filing their papers too late, I think he is in serious trouble in getting on the ballot," Galvin said.
Nader's campaign disputed Galvin's assessment. "I don't share that view," Michael Richardson, the national ballot access coordinator for the Nader campaign, said when informed of Galvin's statement. "I feel pretty confident we will make it."
Richardson said the campaign submitted between 14,000 and 15,000 signatures to local officials and he expressed confidence that a high percentage -- enough to qualify for the ballot -- will be certified.
Galvin's election division yesterday notified the Massachusetts Nader campaign that it faced serious problems getting on the ballot and apprised them of their rights to review the certification process.
Galvin said that his office's computerized system that monitors the certification process showed that Nader had 5,700 valid signatures late yesterday, with most of the communities that would be Nader strongholds, such Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston, having reported.
"We are getting calls and other communications that the city and town officials are receiving them late in the mail, after the close of business on Tuesday," he said. "They cannot count them." Galvin said that, because the Nader campaign is facing a potential problem, he has asked the local election officials to speed up the certification process.
"We want to make sure the Nader campaign can pursue his right of review," Galvin said.
Nader won 6 percent of the Massachusetts vote in 2000. His trouble in Massachusetts this year prompted analysts to note that he is facing difficulties nationally, compared with his draw among the left wing of the Democratic Party in 2000. Nader is frequently blamed for costing former vice president Al Gore the 2000 election.
"It is a completely different political atmosphere," said Elizabeth Sherman, a research fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government's Center for Public Leadership. "Ralph Nader's message that the others are Tweedledee and Tweedledum, that there is no difference, no longer resonates."
"A lot of Nader voters rue the day that they voted for him in 2000 because we can now see it has made all the difference in the world -- the Iraq War, women's reproductive freedom, and now big changes looming on the Supreme Court," she added.
But Richardson said it is a Democratic "myth" that Nader cost Gore the presidential election four years ago. He conceded, however, that the concept has taken hold in Massachusetts.
"The hostility on the streets was huge," Richardson said, relating his organization's experience collecting signatures. He said that one female petitioner was physically assaulted in Harvard Square.
"The anybody-but-Bush virus has taken a particularly hostile strain here in Massachusetts," Richardson said.
Richardson also expressed frustration with the Massachusetts ballot access laws and said that he finds most other states far more efficient. He complained that Galvin's office had not responded to his request for forms that would allow him to add Nader's late pick for a vice-presidential running mate, Peter Camejo, to the petitions.
"I have been querying the secretary's office and finally the attorney last week said they would make a form up, but I haven't gotten anything," Richardson said.
Galvin, saying his office "bends over backwards" to get candidates on the ballot, said the charge is "a red herring." He noted that Massachusetts has one of the lowest thresholds for gaining ballot access for a presidential candidate. As for the forms, Galvin said there is no official form that his office can provide the Nader campaign to place Camejo's name on the ballot.
"We would find some way, if Nader were to be certified, to substitute Camejo's name," he said. "The substitution is not their problem. It's whether Nader will be on the ballot."
© 2004 Boston Globe Company