By BONNIE ADAMS
Saturday, October 09, 2004 Page: 1A
WILKES-BARRE – About 4,000 Luzerne County absentee ballot requests are on hold as the state courts decide whether Ralph Nader is on or off the presidential ballot.
Some local voters who requested absentee ballots want to know why they haven’t gotten them.
“We are inundated with e-mails and telephone calls and people coming to the front counter,” said Luzerne County Bureau of Elections Director Leonard Piazza.
The Pennsylvania Department of State on Thursday advised county officials that they should not send out absentee ballots with Nader’s name on them until the court system determines whether he’s allowed on the presidential ballot. The state memorandum predicted that a legal challenge to Nader’s candidacy would be decided next week.
Philadelphia and Montgomery County mailed their ballots anyway. Piazza said the absentee ballot envelopes are ready to go, but the county is awaiting a decision before printing ballots.
Piazza said Friday that his office would normally have had the absentee ballots more than 1 1/2 months ago.
Piazza said he will mail the 4,000 ballots on Oct. 19 – even if no court decision has been made – to ensure that voters can return the ballots.
His office met the Aug. 24 deadline to mail ballots to military members and civilians living in remote areas overseas. Nader’s name was still on the ballot in Pennsylvania at that point.
His name was then removed, based on a Commonwealth Court decision. About 600 ballots without Nader’s name were mailed on the Sept. 20 deadline to Luzerne County military personnel and civilians residing in non-remote locations.
Piazza said an overnight fax he didn’t receive until Sept. 21 explained that Nader was back on the Pennsylvania ballot after winning his appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The director said about 150 ballots with Nader’s name were then sent to additional voters.
The validity of the ballots that Luzerne and other counties sent out will be based on a final court decision on whether Nader’s name stays or goes. Piazza said the county must provide ballots to those who previously received whatever version is ruled invalid.
All absentee ballots must be received by the county boards of elections by 5 p.m. Oct. 29 – the Friday before Nov. 2 general election – to be counted for all races. Any absentee ballot received after 5 p.m. on the Friday before the election will be counted only for president and vice president of the United States.
Those challenging Nader’s presence on the ballot are voters sympathetic to John Kerry, who fear Nader will take votes away from the Democratic presidential candidate. They allege that more than 30,000 of the 47,000 signatures on Nader’s nominating petitions were forged or otherwise invalid, leaving him short of the 25,697 signatures he needs to be listed on the ballot in Pennsylvania. The state is expected to be a key swing state in the election.