Campaign Laws in America: Ralph Nader and Third Parties in Presidential Elections

A recent judgement by the Pennsylvania State Commonwealth court forces 2004 independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader and vice presidential candidate Peter Camejo to pay $80,000 in legal bills. These bills were accrued before the 2004 election, when Nader and Camejo were trying to get ballot status in Pennsylvania but were rebuffed by state officials for having insufficient or illegitimate signatures. The court’s opinion stated that Nader’s attempt to get on the ballot featured some particularly desperate and deceitful acts, including the use of fake names and celebrity names like “Mickey Mouse.” It is a sad fall for the long-time consumer advocate and it is an ironic fate for someone who railed against campaign corruption in his infamous 2000 presidential run.

The campaign laws that most states hold dear, as well as the federal Help America Vote effort, were designed to prevent the very corruption that Ralph Nader was perpetrating. Requiring a certain amount of signatures forces a candidate to get out on the trail and convince a significant number of people to put them on the ballot in the first place. As well, the stringency of signature requirements, often times requiring clear and legible writing, is meant to ensure that each voter who puts their name down on a ballot status sheet is represented correctly. Nonetheless, there are people who contravene the law and cast doubt on the strength of campaign laws and the American election system in general.

The Nader case in Pennsylvania will certainly have an effect on third party candidacies in the near future. In 2006 and 2008, as in 2000, a third party candidate could always emerge that throws off the balance of the traditional third party system. Without a major party mechanism, this third party candidate can either rely on earnest volunteers who go out and put them on the ballot on all 50 states or a series of mischievous machinations that will not only cause them to lose respectability but cause voters to become more apathetic. However, this ruling should not portend something awful in the future but is, in fact, a demonstration of how efficiently state campaign laws work in most cases.

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