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banner Friday, 27 October, 2000, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
Greens seek gold out West
Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader could hold the balance of power
By Tom Carver in San Francisco

You know election campaigns are getting interesting when politicians start receiving threats.

The head of the California Green Party, has received several threats from senior Democrats in the last few days.

Not death threats - this is politics, not drug running.

Al Gore laughing with school children
Al Gore risks losing votes to Ralph Nader
But Ross Mirakarimi could lose his day-job as San Francisco's deputy attorney general, because his boss, the city's Democrat mayor, is furious at the way the Greens are draining support away from presidential candidate Al Gore.

Something extraordinary has happened in the last couple of weeks of the US presidential race. The Greens, ignored by the two main parties and the mainstream press throughout this campaign, are suddenly headline news.

In this neck and neck race, Green candidate Ralph Nader now holds the balance of power in six marginal states - and California. The latest poll shows Al Gore's lead in California down to a slim five points.

Greens in the spotlight

Such is Mr Gore's fear of losing California, he has even swallowed his pride and asked his boss to stump for him. Californians love President Bill Clinton. Unlike the strait-laced Midwesterners, they have no hang-ups about Bill's colourful private life. In fact many Californians would see it as a profile-enhancer.

One reason for the Greens' success - they are reaching voters that other parties cannot reach

Robert Redford and Sharon Stone are also being pushed onto the streets to try to persuade Democrats not to desert to the Greens and thereby let Mr Bush into the White House through the back door by splitting the liberal vote.

Until the Greens broke through the glass ceiling into the nightly TV news, most Americans had no idea there was any alternative to Democrat and Republicans.

"The American electorate just accepts the way things are," said Ross Mirakarimi.

He is angry at a system which prevents third parties from joining the TV debates or getting federal assistance for their campaign until they have reached a minimum level of support.

There are in fact more than 1,000 other candidates in this race. Some serious. Many not. Only seven are running national campaigns and of those only the Greens have more than 1%. The once mighty Reform Party which eight years ago took nearly a quarter of the vote is now around 1%, led by the right wing gadfly, Pat Buchanan.

As part of our Election Challenge coverage for BBC News Online, we have received several emails asking us to find out what the least well-off people think of the election. In their rush to satisfy the middle ground and the middle classes, the two main parties have largely abandoned those people.

And in turn they have abandoned the parties by not bothering to vote. This is one reason for the Greens's success: they are reaching voters that other parties cannot reach.

Electronic voting

And finally, if you have been dreaming of the day when you can vote from the comfort of your own armchair via the internet, dream on.

Dave Jefferson, who investigated the issue for the California state, said the present generation of PCs was much too insecure to be used for online voting.

"If you lose money through fraud on the internet, there are ways of being reimbursed, but the damage done by rigged votes can never be rectified," he said.

He said no-one had yet found a way of making sure votes were both registered and untraceable. It should be possible by the time of the 2008 election.

I wonder who'll be president then. Ralph Nader?

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