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Nader Bounced On, Off Ballot

By Dan McKay and David Miles
Journal Staff Writers
    Presidential hopeful Ralph Nader found himself on New Mexico's ballot just long enough Monday to be kicked off again.
    And the political merry-go-round might not be over. Nader supporters pledged to file an appeal with the state Supreme Court today.
    State District Judge Wendy York on Monday withdrew an earlier ruling that knocked Nader off the ballot. Her recusal came in response to criticism over a campaign contribution she had made to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
    The lawsuit challenging Nader's New Mexico candidacy was filed on behalf of several plaintiffs, including Vanessa Alarid, executive director of the state Democratic Party.
    York's withdrawal meant election officials were free to include Nader as an independent candidate for president on New Mexico ballots.
    But the pro- and anti-Nader forces were back in court hours later when York's colleague, Judge Theresa Baca, agreed to take the case.
    Baca heard arguments before also barring Nader from the ballot.
    Baca, as York had done last week, ruled Nader cannot run as an independent candidate in New Mexico because he is affiliated with parties elsewhere.
    She said state election rules call for "truth in advertising," meaning candidates can't claim they're independent here if they're running under party banners elsewhere.
    New Mexico law defines an independent candidate, in part, as one "without party affiliation for an office to be voted on at a general election. ... "
    Attorneys for Nader said opponents were taking that law out of context. They argued that candidates generally have a broad right to be on the ballot and that Nader isn't affiliated with any party in New Mexico, making him eligible to be an independent.
    Greens and Republicans had criticized York for her $1,000 donation to the Kerry campaign.
    In a letter to attorneys in the case, York defended her right to participate in the political process and said she didn't believe her donation made her "unable to sit as a fair and impartial judge in this case."
    But she added that it's "critically important to me that the parties and the public have absolute confidence in this court and in the fairness of the upcoming election. Therefore, out of an abundance of caution and in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety, I have decided to withdraw" the opinion and be recused.
    York, a Democrat, was appointed in 1997 by Republican Gov. Gary Johnson. She was recommended for retention in 2002 by the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, which said she "received exceptionally high ratings from all groups surveyed for this evaluation."
    After the case landed with Baca, she, too, was criticized for having made a political contribution. Baca donated about $250 to a committee helping Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate.
    Rep. Daniel R. Foley, R-Roswell, pointed out the contribution to reporters and criticized Baca's decision.
    "She rewrote the laws of the state of New Mexico from the bench," he said. "... It's a shame."
    Baca said in an interview that no state rule prohibits such a contribution.
    State Democratic Chairman John Wertheim said Nader attorneys could have requested a different judge before the hearing if they were concerned about Baca's fairness.
    Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, meanwhile, said the printing of ballots without Nader's name started Monday.
    Vigil-Giron said county clerks would mail ballots to military personnel and other overseas voters as soon as the ballots come back from the printer. She had initially planned to begin mailing those ballots on Monday.
    She said she will destroy about 25,000 ballots with Nader's name on them. Those ballots cost about $35,000.
    Bernalillo County resident John Padilla said he was upset that Vigil-Giron did not make Monday's deadline for mailing overseas ballots. He said his son is a Navy ensign whose vote was not counted in 2002 because he got his ballot late.
    Vigil-Giron said all overseas votes should be counted this year, noting that county clerks now can send and receive overseas ballots by fax.
    Nader is having mixed success getting on ballots in other states.
    An Arkansas judge ruled Monday that he did not meet qualifications for being on that state's ballot. But he has won favorable rulings in Florida and Maryland, and his name will appear on ballots in those states.