On Sept. 17 the Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of presidential candidate Ralph Nader, allowing him to be put on the state ballot Nov. 2. This ended the ongoing battle between Nader and Florida Democrats, who were trying to prevent him from appearing on the ballot on account of alleged irregularities that the Democrats claimed annulled his candidacy. But, as this battle was occurring, another candidate snuck his way through the regulations and entered the state ballot not only late, but also under the radar of the majority of the public and the media.
The candidate in question? None other than President Bush himself. While Florida Democrats were up in arms about Nader, accusing him of being quixotic and of enabling Bush to become president by “stealing” away potential Kerry votes, the Florida Republicans missed the Sept. 1 filing deadline to place the incumbent candidate on the ballot. The Democratic response? Scott Maddox, chairman for the Florida Democratic Party, sums his party’s refusal to make any issue out of it in this statement: “To keep an incumbent of the ballot in a swing state the size of Florida because of a technicality, I just don’t think would be right.”
Yet, to keep a third-party candidate out of the ballot because of technicalities is reason enough to go all the way to the highest court in Florida to duke it out legally.
While trying to keep Bush out of the ballot in Florida on a technicality could have caused uproar and that may have been the reason why no action has taken place, I am surprised to see the plain lack of reaction from the Florida Democrats. They fought so hard against one candidate who has managed to put his name in the spotlight, just to plain ignore the Bush campaign’s indifference to the rules. Had it been a Green Party, Libertarian or (dare I say?) Reform candidate who missed the deadline, you can be pretty sure that come Nov. 2, there would have been one less candidate on the ballot.
Unfortunately, this is just another example of the “gentlemen’s agreement” between the two major parties. For all their differences, it is clear that one thing they do agree upon is keeping the status quo of the two-party system, even if that means relaxing the rules and guidelines if needed. But this episode also shows the cynical nature of American politics. You can bet that, had a conservative third party had a candidate who fared similarly to Nader in 2000, a legal battle would have taken place by Republicans, and the Democrats would have called for the legal right for that candidate to run.
Christian Martinez can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.