Democrats ramp up efforts to block RFK Jr. from appearing on ballots across the nation

As Robert F. Kennedy Jr. pushes to gain ballot access in all 50 states, Democrats are ramping up their efforts to block the independent presidential candidate by filing legal challenges seeking to get his ballot petitions thrown out in several states.

The Democratic National Committee and Clear Choice PAC, a super PAC backing President Joe Biden that is focused on countering third party candidates, have objected to Kennedy’s ballot access in four states in the last month. Some of those challenges have been filed in key battleground states such as North Carolina and Nevada, while others are focused on his petitions in traditionally Democratic strongholds.

Each of the filings claims Kennedy violated state laws that stipulate how independent candidates assemble the paperwork needed to qualify for a state’s ballot. Democrats are alleging Kennedy’s campaign misled voters to sign their petitions, improperly formed a minor party to ease ballot qualification and committed procedural errors in its petitions across five states.

The challenges mark an escalation of a broader strategy launched by Democrats earlier this year to combat Kennedy’s campaign in hopes of keeping the support of voters who backed Biden in 2020 but may consider Kennedy in November, potentially tilting the outcome of an election that’s expected to be decided by narrow margins.

“These challenges are important because they’re part of a twofold strategy. One is educating voters about Robert F. Kennedy Jr.,” DNC spokesperson Matt Corridoni said. “And the second part is making sure that everyone’s playing by the rules.”

Following an event in Albuquerque, New Mexico, last week, Kennedy dismissed the claims made by Democrats and projected confidence he’d overcome the challenges.

“The objections are frivolous, and every case that we brought to court we’ve won easily and will continue to,” Kennedy told CNN.

Ramsey Reid, the campaign manager for the DNC’s third-party team, said the DNC is working with lawyers across the country to review Kennedy’s petitions in every state and search for violations of local petition filing laws.

“It’s a basic review of the filings to make sure that they’re following the rules, the rules that everyone else has to play by. It’s very simple, nitty gritty, election law work to look at the dates, look at the details, look at the actual signatures and make sure that they meet the requirements that state laws set out,” Reid said.

The DNC formed its team to combat third-party candidates earlier this year, around the same time a team of Biden allies formed Clear Choice. Until recently, both groups have primarily focused on messaging against third party candidates, particularly Kennedy. The DNC has frequently launched billboards outside Kennedy campaign events labeling him a “spoiler.”

But the legal challenges raise the stakes of the Democrats’ campaign to block Kennedy as they seek to solidify Biden’s coalition heading into November, with more objections expected as the independent candidate submits petitions in additional states.

“Anywhere he’s not following the rules, we’re going to be in a position to hold him accountable to it,” Reid said.

The Kennedy campaign has strategically timed submitting signatures in some states to reduce the possibility of legal challenges, which could jeopardize his ballot access if successful. Kennedy — who first launched a primary challenge to Biden last year before dropping that bid and starting his independent campaign – has been harshly critical of the Democrats’ opposition to his candidacy, suggesting the effort to keep him off the ballot makes the election less fair.

“The Democratic Party is doing everything it can to disenfranchise people and make sure that people can vote for who they want to using litigation,” Kennedy said in a Fox News interview in March.

But Democrats defend their filings against Kennedy’s ballot qualification as a function of the political system working as intended. Matt Bennett, executive vice president at Third Way, a Biden-allied group opposing third-party candidates, argued Democrats have as much of a right to challenge Kennedy as he does to run for office.

“The first mission of a third-party campaign is to get your candidate on the ballot. If he thinks he can do that, well, go ahead and try. But Democrats and our allies are fully within our rights to challenge that,” Bennett said. “And if he wins, then he’s on the ballot, and if he loses, he’s not. That is the American system. That’s how it works.”

Both the DNC and Clear Choice have filed legal challenges this year to ballot access petitions from other third-party candidates such as independent candidate Cornel West and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. But Kennedy holds a uniquely significant amount of public support for a third-party candidate. In a Fox News national poll of registered voters released Wednesday, Kennedy received 10%, outpacing both West and Stein, who earned 2% support each. In that same poll, Biden earned 43% support, while Trump earned 42%.

In a head-to-head matchup between Biden and Trump, the same Fox News poll found Biden with 50% support and Trump with 48%. The margin of error for the Fox News survey is 3%.

Kennedy is currently on the ballot in seven states: Michigan, California, Utah, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Delaware and Tennessee. He’s repeatedly pledged to qualify for the ballot in all 50 states and Washington, DC.

Ballot access is viewed as a major hurdle for most independent candidates because of the time and resources required to track deadlines, follow state laws and properly file paperwork with each state. Last month, Kennedy’s campaign brought in $2.6 million but spent $6.3 million, more than double what it raised, according to federal campaign finance records. The campaign paid approximately $2.7 million to one ballot access consulting firm, Accelevate 2020 LLC. Legal battles with the DNC could put additional pressure on the Kennedy campaign’s resources.

Legal challenges

The Democrats’ latest challenge was filed in Delaware, a blue state where Kennedy qualified for the ballot earlier this year after being nominated by the Independent Party. The objection, previously unreported, centers on discrepancies in the timing of the party nominating Kennedy and filing paperwork with the state. The Independent Party stated it nominated Kennedy and his running mate Nicole Shanahan on January 23, according to a copy of the nominating paperwork reviewed by CNN, approximately two months before Shanahan was announced as Kennedy’s vice presidential pick. In a letter obtained by CNN, an attorney representing the Delaware Democratic Party asked Delaware Election Commissioner Anthony Albence to block the certification of Kennedy and Shanahan or any Independent Party candidate in the state.

On Friday, Democrats also organized a lawsuit in Nevada, a crucial battleground state, arguing that because Kennedy accepted nominations of minor parties in some states where he’s gained ballot access, he is ineligible to run as an independent candidate in Nevada.

Earlier this month, the DNC helped two New York voters file objections with the New York State Board of Election and a separate lawsuit seeking to void Kennedy’s ballot access petition, claiming Kennedy’s petition is “permeated with fraud.” Some of the objections claim procedural violations, including missing dates, improperly numbered pages, and forms completed not in blue or black ink.

But Democrats are also alleging signature gatherers working for Kennedy’s campaign “knowingly and intentionally misrepresented and/or concealed” his and Shanahan’s names on ballot petitions.

The allegations of misleading voters appear to have some standing. In a separate lawsuit filed by the Kennedy campaign challenging ballot access requirements in New York, the independent candidate’s team acknowledged hiring two petitioning firms in New York who then folded over the tops of Kennedy’s petitions to hide Kennedy and Shanahan’s names. Kennedy’s campaign did not submit any signatures collected by the two firms, according to the lawsuit.

Jeffrey Wice, a New York Law School professor specializing in election law, said some of Kennedy’s petition signatures could get thrown out because of New York’s unique ballot access laws that pose obstacles especially for third-party candidates.

“It could very well be a legitimate claim because New York has very specific requirements on what goes on the petitions in terms of the signature and the address of the voter,” Wice said.

“New York has a very complicated election system. These laws were designed, essentially, decades back to help incumbents stay in office,” he added.

The DNC’s efforts to block Kennedy’s ballot access are aided by Clear Choice. The PAC has also filed an objection in New York that home in on questions around Kennedy’s listed residence. His New York petitions listed an address in Katonah, New York, as his residence, despite being based primarily in Los Angeles. Kennedy has previously denied reports that he doesn’t live at the Katonah residence.

Clear Choice has also filed an objection to Kennedy’s ballot petition in battleground North Carolina earlier this month, arguing that the We The People party, which was formed by Kennedy’s campaign, wrongly circumvents state laws governing political parties by being tied to Kennedy’s campaign. Clear Choice also argues an incorrect residence listed by a We The People party official could potentially invalidate several pages of Kennedy’s signatures.

The Kennedy campaign has shown some success in fighting for ballot access in the courtroom already. After Democrats objected to the Kennedy campaign’s formation of the We The People party in Hawaii, Kennedy campaign staffers successfully defended the formation of the party in a state elections office hearing, ensuring ballot access in the state. Kennedy’s lawyers have used lawsuits in multiple states to successfully push back petition deadlines, including in Utah, where Kennedy has qualified for the ballot.

But Democrats insist they will continue to fight Kennedy’s petitions in court, further complicating Kennedy’s path to nationwide ballot access. The lawsuits, Democrats acknowledge, are an indication of the potential impact Kennedy could have on the race in states where he does make the ballot.

“We’re not going to sit on our hands and leave opponents unchecked, though. We’ve seen in past elections what happens when you don’t take threats seriously,” Corridoni said. “We view Robert F. Kennedy on the ballot as a threat to stopping President Biden winning reelection.”

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect the correct university where Jeffrey Wice serves as a professor.

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