By BRETT MARCY
Wednesday, September 29, 2004 Page: 5A
HARRISBURG – If Ralph Nader wants to remain on the ballot in Pennsylvania as the independent candidate for president, he’s not getting much help from Luzerne County Elections Bureau Director Leonard Piazza.
Nader’s opponents are challenging more than 30,000 of the 47,000 signatures he submitted for his nominating petitions to get on the ballot in Pennsylvania.
Sixteen of those challenged signatures came from petitions circulated in Luzerne County.
Piazza testified Tuesday during a Commonwealth Court hearing in Harrisburg – one of several held around the state this week to determine the validity of Nader’s petitions.
“I didn’t find out I was coming down here until 5:30 p.m. last night,” Piazza said after his testimony Tuesday.
Piazza‘s testimony focused on a handful of the 16 challenged signatures. He said he had determined nine of the signatures are valid, and another came from someone not registered to vote in the county.
Ira S. Lefton, the attorney for the Nader opponents, asked Piazza why he invalidated the remaining six signatures. Piazza answered that he believed the six signatures in question were forgeries.
That prompted Lefton to ask Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer to rule those signatures invalid.
Nader’s attorney, Basil Culyba, criticized Piazza‘s testimony, saying he was not an expert in forensic evidence and handwriting analysis.
“I object to this witness’ testimony,” Culyba said. “I think for a layperson to look at two signatures and conclude one way or another would be incompetent.”
Piazza acknowledged that he is not an expert in handwriting analysis, but said it is clear to him that those signatures “were all forged of another hand.”
Nader is on the ballot in 30 states. He needs the valid signatures of 25,697 voters in order to be listed on the Pennsylvania ballot.
Election officials from Monroe, Lancaster and Lehigh counties also provided testimony regarding questionable signatures on Nader petitions in each of those counties.
Cohn was not expected to rule on the challenged petitions Tuesday. A ruling could come as soon as today.
More hearings are scheduled for today.
Based in Washington, D.C., Culyba has defended Nader’s efforts to get on the ballot in other states, saying the effort of Nader opponents to block his candidacy is just as strong in Pennsylvania as it is in other states.