RFK Jr. Sues Utah Officials for ‘Unconstitutional Early Filing Deadline’ Days After Salt Lake City Campaign Stop

The legal action challenges the state’s Jan. 8 date for independent presidential candidates to collect and verify signatures from qualified voters.
RFK Jr. Sues Utah Officials for ‘Unconstitutional Early Filing Deadline’ Days After Salt Lake City Campaign Stop
Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at a Hispanic Heritage Month event at Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles on Sept. 15, 2023. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Jeff Louderback
12/6/2023
Updated:
12/6/2023
0:00

Days after telling a standing-room-only crowd at a Salt Lake City campaign stop that he will “make history” in the 2024 presidential election, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. filed a lawsuit against Utah officials citing an “unconstitutional early filing deadline” that prevents ballot access for independent presidential candidates.

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and Ryan Cowley, the Director of Elections of the State of Utah, were named as defendants.

The legal action challenges Utah’s Jan. 8 deadline mandating that independent presidential candidates collect and verify 1,000 signatures from qualified voters.

“No state in the history of the United States has sought to impose such an early date to collect, validate and file ballot access petitions to secure ballot access for the general election to be held on the far-off date of Nov. 5, 2024,” the lawsuit reads.

“The county clerk for Salt Lake County has advised that she will need two weeks to validate all signatures, such that petitioning must stop no later than December 14th,” according to the documents.

“Accordingly, in order to collect the 1,500 to 1,600 raw signatures in the middle of December’s cold weather, sufficient to guarantee that at least 1,000 of the signatures will be validated in time to meet the January 8, 2023 deadline, Plaintiff RFK will be forced at the end of next week, at the latest, to make the decision to hire professional petition circulators at a cost of between $7 and $10 per valid signature by late next week.”

Mr. Kennedy is seeking an emergency temporary restraining order on the rule “in order to prevent severe economic harm to Plaintiff RFK,” the lawsuit states. The lawsuit requests an August deadline to file the petition signatures.

Paul Rossi is part of the legal team for Mr. Kennedy’s campaign. He said that the early filing deadline “directly impairs voters from casting meaningful votes in the general election.”

“This law is clearly designed to prohibit and impair independent candidates from appearing on Utah’s general election ballot next year. Frankly, it mystifies me why Utah is trying to enforce this,” Mr. Rossi said.

“We’re challenging it so the voters of Utah, like every other state in the nation, have a right to cast ballots for the candidate they might want to support,” Mr. Rossi added.

A 1980 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court established a precedent for the legal action, Mr. Rossi explained.

“John Anderson was an independent candidate against Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, and he announced his candidacy after March that year. And because Ohio’s March 15th deadline was so early, he was prevented from making the ballot,” Mr. Rossi said.

The court ruled that voters and candidates require time to assess the major party candidates to determine if they would support a third-party candidate.

“Back in 1984, Utah had an April 15th deadline and the secretary, the lieutenant governor’s office at that time, recognized that that deadline was so early and unconstitutional that they told independent candidates: ‘don’t worry about it, we’re not enforcing it,'” Mr. Rossi said.

In a statement about the lawsuit, Ms. Henderson said, “We are reviewing the complaint, we have no comment at this time.”

Supporters of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Oct. 9, 2023, in Philadelphia, listen to the announcement that he will run as an independent presidential candidate. (Jeff Louderback/The Epoch Times)
Supporters of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Oct. 9, 2023, in Philadelphia, listen to the announcement that he will run as an independent presidential candidate. (Jeff Louderback/The Epoch Times)

What Mr. Kennedy is facing in Utah reflects the daunting challenges that confront independent presidential candidates seeking ballot access.

Mr. Kennedy announced he would no longer run as a Democrat and instead switch to independent candidate status on Oct. 9.

The campaign stops he called “town halls” and “meet and greets” as a Democratic candidate are now billed as “voter rallies” at which he delivers his independent campaign platform, answers questions, poses for selfies, and encourages attendees to sign petitions to get him on the ballot.

The challenge of getting on the ballot in every state and Washington D.C. is grueling, time-consuming, and expensive.

Guidelines for securing a ballot spot differ in many states, as do deadlines. North Carolina and Texas, for example, require independent candidates to file by mid-May. Multiple states have summer deadlines.

Mr. Kennedy must gather about 200,000 signatures in California, about 145,000 in Florida, and more than 110,000 in Texas, according to the rules in those states. Tennessee requires only 275 signatures.

Legal challenges from Democrats and Republicans intent on keeping Mr. Kennedy off the ballot are possible. There are processes to challenge signatures after they’ve been submitted to election offices in multiple states.

Some states have varying guidelines about the number of signees in different parts of their state.

American Values 2024, a super PAC supporting the election of Mr. Kennedy, said that it plans to spend as much as $15 million to get the candidate on the ballot in 10 states deemed important to winning the election.

A spokesperson for the super PAC said the organization will spend money to collect signatures by hand, as state law requires, in Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, New York, and Texas.

Deirdre Goldfarb, an adviser to American Values 2024, said in a press release, “We have chosen to pursue these critical states, some of them battlegrounds, due to the complexity of the state election codes and the volume of signatures necessary to achieve ballot access.”

Signatures from the 10 states represent about half of what is required to secure a spot for Mr. Kennedy on ballots nationwide.

Just as he has during multiple campaign stops, Mr. Kennedy told a standing-room-only crowd at a voter rally in Salt Lake City last week what he would do if elected, but first, he talked about his “grassroots campaign” and the importance of collecting signatures.

“Normally, independent candidates pay companies millions of dollars to gather signatures. We’re taking a different route that starts with our thousands of volunteers in every state,” Mr. Kennedy said.

When asked if a vote for him would be a wasted vote, he said, “I’m polling in some of the battleground states at 24, 26, 27 percent, and that’s never happened before for an independent candidate in this country.”

“Every poll shows that 70 or 80 percent of Americans are not satisfied with the two choices that the Democrat and Republican Parties are offering them. So I think we’re going to make history with this election.”
Presidential Candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. makes a campaign announcement at a press conference in Philadelphia on Oct. 9, 2023. (Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)
Presidential Candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. makes a campaign announcement at a press conference in Philadelphia on Oct. 9, 2023. (Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)
Mr. Kennedy was referencing a survey of registered voters conducted by Siena College and The New York Times from early November indicating that in six battleground states, Mr. Kennedy would receive 24 percent of the vote in a three-way race, while President Trump would get 35 percent and President Biden would get 33 percent. The balance said they remained undecided or wouldn’t vote.

The poll included 3,662 likely voters in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The margin of sampling error varies among the state polls, from plus or minus 4.4 percentage points to plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.

The same study showed Mr. Kennedy leading President Biden and President Trump among voters younger than the age of 45 in those six states.

Mr. Kennedy received 34 percent support among voters aged 18 to 29 compared with 30 percent for President Biden and 29 percent for President Trump. For voters aged 30 to 44, Mr. Kennedy led with 31 percent, while President Biden and President Trump each collected 30 percent.

Utah is a state Mr. Kennedy believes he can win. Since announcing his candidacy in April, he has generated support from conservatives, moderate Republicans and Democrats, and independents. Utah has 574,075 registered unaffiliated voters. More than 100,000 of them are reportedly inactive since they have not cast a vote in the last two general elections.

The number of unaffiliated voters is more than double the figure of Democrat voters and Republican voters.

In the 2022 election, Utah’s Democrat Party did not nominate its candidate against Republican Sen. Mike Lee. Instead, it endorsed independent candidate Evan McMullin, who ultimately lost to Mr. Lee.

NBA Hall of Famer John Stockton played for the Utah Jazz from 1984 to 2003. Last month, he publicly endorsed Mr. Kennedy.

He told The Epoch Times on Dec. 6 that “He (Mr. Kennedy) has been put on this planet for just this moment in time. There’s a need for very intelligent people in these positions who have integrity and the stamina and strength to speak and be a leader 24/7, not just on occasion.

“He'll look you right in the eye and tell you what he thinks. If you disagree, he’s willing to discuss it. His mind isn’t set. He’s not dialed into one political way of thinking, and if you can present a decent argument, he wants to hear it and perhaps his mind changes,” Mr. Stockton added.

Mr. Stockton added that Mr. Kennedy represents a “unifying factor” at a time when the nation “has never been this divided.”

“It’s the right time for an independent to win, and so what if it hasn’t happened before. It’s the right time now.”

Jeff Louderback covers news and features on the White House and executive agencies for The Epoch Times. He also reports on Senate and House elections. A professional journalist since 1990, Jeff has a versatile background that includes covering news and politics, business, professional and college sports, and lifestyle topics for regional and national media outlets.