Shut Out of First Presidential Debate, RFK Jr. Continues Ballot Access Quest

‘We knew that we would face legal challenge after legal challenge, so we are prepared,’ he said.
Shut Out of First Presidential Debate, RFK Jr. Continues Ballot Access Quest
Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at the Nixon library in Yorba Linda, Calif., on June 12, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Jeff Louderback
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After having been shut out of the election season’s first presidential debate, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. continues to advance in his quest to get ballot access in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The independent presidential candidate is gaining ballot access in some states by seeking and gaining the nomination of third parties, which has drawn the attention of Democrats who view his candidacy as a serious threat.

Last week, two voters filed a lawsuit in Nevada alleging that Mr. Kennedy must be registered without a political party affiliation to run as an independent in the state.
The legal action brought forth on June 20 by Uwe Rockenfeller and Francisco Morales in the U.S. District Court in Carson City claims that Mr. Kennedy is seeking the nominations of political parties in six states but is running as an independent. The plaintiffs are asking that the court remove Mr. Kennedy from Nevada’s general election ballot. 
Mr. Kennedy initially ran for the Democrat nomination. But after encountering multiple roadblocks from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and claiming that the organization was “rigging the primary” to favor President Joe Biden and prevent other candidates from competing, he chose to run as an independent in October 2023.

The Kennedy–Nicole Shanahan ticket is currently on the ballot in eight states: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

The campaign has gathered enough signatures to gain ballot access in another 16 states: New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Idaho, Nebraska, Iowa, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Florida, Minnesota, Tennessee, Alaska, Washington, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

Those 24 states together total 342 electoral votes.

Important among those is Pennsylvania. Earlier this week, Mr. Kennedy announced the campaign had submitted enough signatures to gain ballot access in the battleground state where in 2020, then candidate Biden won by 81,000 more votes than President Donald Trump, who in 2016 defeated Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by 44,000 votes.

The Third Party Option

In January, Mr. Kennedy’s campaign said it had filed paperwork in six states to create the We The People political party. The move was made to get his name on the ballots with fewer voter signatures than those states require for unaffiliated candidates. It reduced his overall signatures requirement by about 330,000.

In April, Mr. Kennedy qualified for ballot access in Michigan through the Natural Law Party before getting on the ballot in California with a nomination from the American Independent Party.

Mr. Kennedy qualified for the ballot in South Carolina through the Alliance Party on May 31.

2024 presidential contender Robert F. Kennedy Jr. with his vice presidential pick, Nicole Shanahan, in Oakland, Calif., on March 26, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
2024 presidential contender Robert F. Kennedy Jr. with his vice presidential pick, Nicole Shanahan, in Oakland, Calif., on March 26, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

On June 14, Mr. Kennedy announced that he had collected enough signatures to appear on the ballot in Washington state and in Mississippi under the We The People party.

The campaign said on June 17 that it had submitted enough signatures to gain ballot access representing the We The People party in Mississippi.

That same day, Mr. Kennedy revealed that he would appear on the ballot in Florida through the Reform Party of Florida.

The Reform Party was founded in 1995 by Ross Perot, who in 1992 ran as an independent and tallied 19 percent of the popular vote in a race won by then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton against President George H.W. Bush.

Democrats and Republicans have expressed concern that Mr. Kennedy could take away votes from their respective presidential candidates.

Earlier this year, the DNC announced the creation of a team to counter third-party and independent presidential candidates.

It hired Lis Smith, a veteran Democrat strategist who managed Pete Buttigieg’s unsuccessful 2020 presidential campaign, to spearhead a communication plan to counter Mr. Kennedy, independent Cornel West, and Green Party nominee Jill Stein.

Over the last month, the DNC and Clear Choice, a super PAC aligned with President Biden to counter third-party presidential candidates, have objected to Mr. Kennedy’s appearance on the ballot with legal filings in four states, including the battlegrounds of Nevada and North Carolina.

“We knew that we would face legal challenge after legal challenge, so we are prepared,” Mr. Kennedy told The Epoch Times. “These objections are frivolous and an attempt to keep Americans from having another choice. Every case that we brought to court, we’ve won easily, and we will continue to win.”

Aligning with third parties to get on ballots can create challenges in public perception because of the party’s history.

The American Independent Party, Mr. Kennedy’s affiliation in California, backed former Alabama governor and segregationist George Wallace in 1968.

After he received the party’s nomination in April, Mr. Kennedy acknowledged the party’s controversial support for Mr. Wallace in an announcement video but noted that it “has had its own rebirth even before I came along.” 

“It’s been reborn as a party that represents not bigotry and hatred, but rather compassion, unity, idealism, and common sense,” Mr. Kennedy added.

“What I’m trying to do during this election is to get people to step away from their narrow self-interest, to transcend their lower impulses of anger and bigotry and fear and see themselves as part of a big adventure, see themselves as heroes that are willing to take a risk,” Mr. Kennedy continued.

Third-party affiliations can also result in dissension from some of its members if the candidate’s platform does not fully align with the party’s views.

Speculation mounted earlier this year that he could seek and gain the Libertarian Party’s 2024 presidential nomination.

Mr. Kennedy met with Libertarian Party Chairwoman Angela McArdle, and they expressed mutual interest, but after a campaign stop in Iowa in March, Mr. Kennedy told The Epoch Times that he would continue his campaign as an independent.

“It will become obvious quickly [that] we will get ballot access,” Mr. Kennedy replied when asked whether he is still talking to the Libertarian Party about its nomination.

His campaign confirmed in a statement that he has “many areas of alignment” with the Libertarian Party but “is not contemplating joining the Libertarian ticket.”

On May 3, Libertarian Party state chairs and delegation chairs from the District of Columbia, California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Vermont published a letter inviting Mr. Kennedy to seek the party’s nomination.

Mr. Kennedy spoke at multiple Libertarian events over the past year. He accepted an invitation to seek the party’s nomination at the national convention in May, but members chose Chase Oliver. Mr. Kennedy never seriously pursued the nomination.

Representatives from some sectors of the Libertarian Party said that Mr. Kennedy’s views were not aligned with theirs. When Mr. Kennedy introduced Ms. Shanahan as his running mate earlier this year, Ms. McArdle said that she was concerned about Ms. Shanahan’s background in supporting Democrats.

As Mr. Kennedy continues to move forward in his objective to gain full ballot access, reaching that goal through third-party nominations in more states is probable.

Richard Winger, publisher of Ballot Access News, told The Epoch Times that the strategy is not new, citing presidential candidates like George Wallace in 1968 and John Anderson in 1980 who employed the plan.

Mr. Winger also noted that the most recent independent candidates who impacted presidential races secured ballot access in states using a third party.

“In 1992, Ross Perot didn’t use any pre-existing one-state party, but he formed his own one-state parties in Oregon and Alaska,“ Mr. Winger said. ”Ralph Nader used many one-state parties in his independent runs in 2004 and 2008.”

When Mr. Kennedy announced Ms. Shanahan as his running mate in March, he told The Epoch Times that the ticket would gain ballot access in one to three states per week. He said he expects to reach ballot access in all 50 states and the District of Columbia sometime this summer.

“Critics and pundits have doubted us since the beginning of our campaign and have said we won’t be able to get on the ballot,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We’ve proven them wrong in the most difficult states to gain ballot access, like California, New York, and Texas, and we’ll keep proving them wrong.”

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.