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Inmate on Idaho presidential ballot

BOISE - Three candidates will appear on the Democratic ticket for president in Idaho’s May primary this year – the two front-runners, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and a federal prison inmate from Texas.

“We got conned,” said a somewhat embarrassed Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. Keith Russell Judd, 49, who is serving time at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Institution and won’t get out until 2013, qualified for the Idaho ballot by sending in a notarized form and paying the $1,000 fee. Thanks to a recent election law change that removed a requirement for collecting signatures, that was enough to put him on the ballot.

“We may rethink how we get on our presidential ballot next time,” Ysursa said. “We’ll take a look at it. We’ve got four years to think about it.”

Judd declared as a write-in candidate for president in Idaho in 2004, which simply requires sending in a declaration. He didn’t receive a vote.

Prison officials told the secretary of state’s office that Judd sent out about 14 checks to states seeking to get on the presidential election ballot, and that half of them had been returned. While he’s qualified as a write-in candidate in Kentucky, California, Indiana and Florida, it appears that Idaho is the only state where Judd’s name will appear on the ballot.

“It’s a mockery of the system, and it’s too bad that this kind of thing can happen,” said Chuck Oxley, spokesman for the state Democratic Party. He said the party is particularly miffed that Judd was able to get on the ballot, while Ysursa booted a Democratic state senate candidate in District 15, Matt Yost, because the candidate’s voter registration was in a different district.

“We have this really good candidate who can’t get on the ballot and this yahoo prisoner in Texas who coughs up a thousand bucks can,” Oxley complained.

One big difference: Idaho’s Democratic presidential primary vote doesn’t count. It’s a mere “beauty contest,” because Democratic presidential delegates were apportioned in the state’s party caucuses. There, Obama handily won.

“The good thing is the Democratic presidential primary has absolutely no legal significance,” Ysursa said.

States can’t place any limits on who runs for president beyond the requirements in the U.S. Constitution, which calls for candidates to be natural-born citizens at least 35 years old who have resided in the United States for 14 years.

Ysursa said Judd paid his fee with a U.S. Treasury check drawn on his prison account. Judd listed a campaign office phone number both in his declaration of candidacy and in his profile on Project VoteSmart, but the number is the city desk news tips line at the Beaumont Enterprise newspaper. Managing Editor Kris Worrell said, “Well, obviously it’s not his number.”

He also listed a number for a coordinator in Ohio, which proved to be an IRS customer service line.

The Beaumont Enterprise reported in November that Judd, a frequent writer of letters to the newspaper, landed in prison after he was convicted of making threats on the University of New Mexico campus in 1999. He told the paper that he grew up in Albuquerque, N.M., where his father was an atomic scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and his mother taught high school English. A musician and former band member, he teaches piano to other inmates at the low-security federal prison.