Professional signature collector Melva Lewis was standing in the parking lot of the Boone County Fair on Wednesday evening. Wearing short shorts to show off the writing on her legs, she tried to persuade fair attendees to approach her.
On her right thigh she had the words “Sign my petition” written in pen. On her left thigh, she had “Boone Ct. Got Nader?”
Lewis only wanted to know one thing: “Are you registered to vote in Boone County?” If the answer was “yes,” she then would produce two petitions — one to put Ralph Nader on the ballot for president and another to include the Constitution Party candidates in Missouri races.
Today, the 10,000 signatures required to add independent parties to the November ballot must be turned in to the secretary of state’s office.
Officials said information on whether they had collected the 10,000 required signatures is not to be released until after the deadline passes.
“Gettin’ turned down, it’s really hard,” said Lewis, who was recruited from Flint, Mich., to be a professional signature collector. The Ralph Nader Campaign pays Lewis $2 for a signature and the Constitution Party pays 75 cents. She and at least 20 more petitioners in Boone County had a quota of 100 a day. If she did not meet her quota, she would have to pay part of her travel expenses.
Donna Ivanovich, the ballot access coordinator for the Constitution Party, formerly worked for Nader and 1992 presidential independent candidate Ross Perot. She did not see a conflict in gathering signatures for both Ralph Nader and the Constitution Party simultaneously.
“They have every right to do what they want to do. That’s the American way,” Ivanovich said. “It would be a much healthier election to have another viewpoint on the ballot.”
Professional signature collectors have been scrambling statewide to gather enough signatures to add independent parties to the Missouri ballot. While GOP supporters have canvassed the states of Michigan and Oregon to collect the signatures needed for Nader to appear on the ballot in November, this trend is not visible in Missouri.
Matt Davis, spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party, said he personally collected 92 of the more than 40,000 signatures submitted for Nader’s campaign in his state. Davis said Republicans helped the Nader campaign spark debate within the Democratic Party .
“I went door-to-door in my neighborhood, and I went to gun shows on the weekend,” Davis said.
Despite their success, John Hancock, consultant on political strategy and fund raising for the Missouri Republican Party, said a similar movement was not planned in Missouri.
Hancock said that while adding Nader to the ballot would draw votes from Democrats, the independent candidate would not have as strong of an impact on the 2004 presidential race as he did when he ran on the Green Party ticket in 2000.
Jim Gardner, spokesman for the Missouri Democratic Party said Missouri’s Nader supporters could find the petitioning process more difficult than in other states, because signature gatherers cannot concentrate on a city and receive all the signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.
“The process for an independent to get on the ballot in Missouri is a bit more complicated than other states,” Gardner said. An equal portion of signatures must come from all Missouri’s congressional districts, he said.
Kevin Zeese, spokesman for the Nader campaign, said a space on the ballot again in 2004 is likely. “We expect to have enough,” Zeese said.
Nader also received the support of the conservative group Citizens for a Sound Economy, led by Republican Dick Armey, former House Majority Leader.
In Oregon, CSE members worked to get Nader on the ballot, though a press release stated the candidate “opposes nearly every issue CSE fights for.” CSE spokesman Chris Kinnan denied the movement in Oregon was an effort to pull votes away from Democratic front-runner Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
“We do think that this presents a challenge on the left because they need to have a debate about some of their core issues so we do think it’s useful in that way,” Kinnan said.
Kinnan said the CSE planned similar efforts in other battleground states where the organization has the staff to back the petition campaign.