Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Being Ralph Nader: How Much Does The Ballot Matter?

Ralph Nader has been excluded from the ballot of many states, including critical Ohio. The Democratic Party and its allies have been the main movers in the effort to displace Mr. Nader.

Does it really matter that much?

I have serious doubts. Yes, removing Mr. Nader's name will likely reduce his share of the vote a bit. But wanting to vote for Nader-Camejo is not like wanting to for the Democrats or the Republicans. Being a Nader-Camejo supporter requires a much higher level of personal focus and alienation from the general political system the printed ballot literally represents. The great majority of prospective Nader-Camejo voters will likely be well aware that the Nader-Camejo ticket has been excluded from the printed ballot, and will be determined to vote for that ticket anyway. Absentee voters (consider Oregon) will have plenty of time to realize that their printed mail-in ballot does not include the Nader-Camejo names they wish to choose - and lots of time to resolve any resulting confusion.

In other words, one's being a Nader-Camejo supporter very likely means being willing to write in their names on the ballot, and understanding long before one's vote is cast that one will have to write in Nader-Camejo.

A suggestive example may be found in the last presidential election. In the 2000 election Mr. Nader drew 2.8 million votes nationwide -- 2.7 percent of the popular vote. Mr. Nader's name was excluded from the Wyoming ballot in 2000. How much did that matter? Consider this:

Wyoming reported that 221,685 ballots were cast and 213,726 votes for president were counted, but apparently only for candidates appearing on the ballot. That left 3.6 percent of the ballots not showing a vote for president _ 7,959 ballots.

"What didn't get reported was Ralph Nader," who ran on the Green Party ticket, Meyer said. "He wasn't on the ballot here so he waged an aggressive write-in campaign. If we had tied in the number who voted for Nader, then I think the undervote would be way, way less."

State officials had counted the write-in for Nader but failed to report it publicly. After receiving information from Scripps Howard, Meyer looked up the figures and found that Nader had received 4,625 votes. That would account for most of the ballots that didn't show a vote for president in Wyoming.

In other words, without his name appearing on the ballot in that state, Mr. Nader received 4,625 write-in votes in Wyoming in 2000 out of a total of 221,685 ballots cast, or about 2% of the total vote in Wyoming compared to the 2.7% he won nationally. Did one expect Mr. Nader to do as well in very-conservative Wyoming compared to his performance in the country as a whole even if his name had been on the ballot in 2000? Does all of that suggest that the Democrats have accomplished a great deal by excluding Mr. Nader from the ballot of various states this year?

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