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Counted out 

A nightmare scenario: You walk into a voting booth, select the presidential candidate of your choice, feed your ballot into the machine--and with that tiny sucking sound, your vote disappears. Now wake up: This is what happened to Green Party loyalists in North Carolina who wrote in Ralph Nader's name despite the certainty that their votes would not be counted.

The Greens' efforts to get the state to note their votes failed, but they caught the attention of the State Board of Elections. SBOE Director Gary Bartlett made that clear in an Oct. 25 memo to county boards of elections across the state.

"Most of you have received a request from the Green Party or other representatives of Mr. Ralph Nader that you count write-in votes cast for Mr. Nader in this general election," the memo, which was posted at the entrance of at least one Orange County polling site, began. Since "Nader did not qualify as a write-in candidate," Bartlett pointed out, "any vote he may receive cannot be counted."

Bartlett included special instructions for handling the Green menace: "In addition, some Nader supporters have encouraged Nader activists to request access to the ballots so they may count ballots voting for Mr. Nader. ... If you are pressured and or threaten [sic] with litigation by persons intent on receiving Mr. Nader's ballot count, feel free to direct these aggressive or angry citizens to this office."

Asked what the Naderites had done to warrant the warning memo, Bartlett said that the Greens had barraged county boards with e-mail messages and that "a few have called and been angry and not polite. They seem to think we are the mean guys, but as administrators of the elections, we have to follow the laws."

Doug Stuber, state coordinator for the Greens, says the party "never wanted to be in a position that was adversarial" with the SBOE. "The reality is that there really were some Greens that were quite mad," Stuber acknowledged.

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