MIAMI -- Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader's name can appear on Florida ballots for the election, despite a court order to the contrary, Florida's elections chief told officials yesterday in a move that could help President Bush in the key swing state.
The Florida Democratic Party reacted with outrage, calling the move ''blatant partisan maneuvering" by Governor Jeb Bush, the president's younger brother, and vowed to fight it.
In a memo to Florida's 67 county supervisors of elections, Dawn Roberts, director of the Division of Elections, said the uncertainty of Hurricane Ivan forced her to act. The massive storm could hit parts of the state by week's end, forecasters say.
The ruling came in an ongoing legal battle over whether Nader should be allowed on the Florida ballot as the Reform Party candidate.
Nader, an independent nominated by the Reform Party, was a presidential candidate in 2000 when Bush won Florida, and the White House, by 537 votes over Al Gore. Analysts said most of the nearly 98,000 votes Nader got in Florida would have gone to Gore had Nader not been on the ballot.
Florida Circuit Court Judge Kevin Davey issued a temporary injunction last week preventing the state from putting Nader on the 2004 ballot, siding with a Democratic challenge that the Reform Party did not qualify as a national party under state law.
A hearing on a permanent injunction is scheduled for tomorrow. But Roberts said Hurricane Ivan had raised ''a substantial question as to when such a hearing" will be held.
As a result, she said, Florida's Department of State had filed an appeal against the temporary injunction. The appeal application automatically lifts the injunction, allowing the counties to put Nader's name on overseas absentee ballots, which must be mailed by Saturday.
''I'm in disbelief," said Scott Maddox, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party. ''This is blatant partisan maneuvering on the part of Jeb Bush to give his brother a leg up" against Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry.
Governor Bush said he agreed with Roberts's decision.
''It's up to the judge to determine, based on the law, whether Nader should be on the ballot or not," Bush said. ''But while that process goes on, we cannot put ourselves in the position where the ministerial role of the supervisors cannot be fulfilled."
Tallahassee, the state capital where Davey sits, is not expected to be directly hit by the hurricane. Maddox said the circuit court could hear the case as scheduled tomorrow and rule immediately.
In addition, the case is before the Florida Supreme Court, which could also rule at any time.