Judges to scrutinize petitions



Lawyers allege more than half of the 47,000 signatures for Nader are flawed.
HARRISBURG (AP) -- Three state judges in Philadelphia and a fourth in Pittsburgh will simultaneously scrutinize the validity of petitions submitted by independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader in his effort to appear on the Pennsylvania ballot, a lawyer in the case said.
Gregory M. Harvey, who is representing one of eight people who challenged Nader's right to be listed on the state's Nov. 2 election ballot, said President Judge James Gardner Colins may add a fifth simultaneous hearing if he determines one is necessary.
Colins set Sept. 3 as the date for the hearing, according to an order he filed Thursday in the case. The order followed a Thursday morning closed status conference in Philadelphia.
The bulk of the hearings will be held in Philadelphia, because that is where most of the signatures were gathered and where most of the alleged petition fraud occurred, Harvey said.
Invalid signatures alleged
The lawyers for the eight people allege that more than 37,000 of the 47,000 signatures Nader supporters turned in earlier this month were forged, fictitious or otherwise flawed. Once those are thrown out, they say Nader will lack the 25,697 registered voters' signatures he needs to get on the ballot.
Before the Sept. 3 hearings, there is much to do.
Colins set Monday as the deadline for preliminary objections to be filed by both sides. Commonwealth Court judges are to hear oral arguments on those objections Aug. 27.
The attorney representing Nader, Samuel C. Stretton, said he would file motions protesting the amount of time he has been given to prepare and questioning whether Pennsylvania's requirements for ballot access violate federal voting rights.
State Democratic leaders have expressed concern that Nader's candidacy could siphon away enough votes from Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry to cost him the election in Pennsylvania, a crucial battleground state. Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes represent the fifth-largest electoral prize.
Kerry has edge
Two independent polls released this week show Kerry holding a slim edge over President Bush in the state. In a Quinnipiac University survey, Kerry led President Bush, a Republican, by 47 percent of registered voters surveyed to 42 percent. Nader captured 4 percent.
In a Keystone Poll, 48 percent said they supported Kerry, while 42 percent said they favored Bush. Nader was chosen by 3 percent.

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