LANSING, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Independent presidential candidate 69-year-old Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced on Wednesday that he is officially on the general election ballot in Utah. He also hosted a press conference where he discussed his ballot status and celebrated with dozens of volunteers who collected more than double the necessary 1,000 signatures needed in the state. Utah is the first state where Kennedy has gained ballot access for the 2024 presidential election.

Who is RFK Jr.?

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., also referred to as RFK Jr., is the nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy who was assassinated in 1963. He’s also the son of the late U.S. Attorney General and Democratic Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York. His father ran for president in 1968 and was assassinated during his campaign.

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Kennedy’s policy proposals on his website include: curbing illegal immigration to the U.S.; raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour; cutting military spending for investments in social programs and eliminating the interest rate on student loans. He’s also very focused on an aggressive environmental agenda and ending mass surveillance by the federal government. He’s probably most known for his environmental advocacy and his claims about the efficacy of Covid vaccinations.

Kennedy previously ran in the Democratic presidential primary against President Joe Biden but withdrew from the primary in October to run as an independent candidate. In doing so, he has to jump through a lot of hoops in every state in the country to get on their general ballots. Every state has their own rules to get on voting ballots including signature requirements, petitioning start dates and filing deadlines. With the state of Utah checked off, plans to get on the ballot in the rest of the country, including Michigan, are underway.

Kennedy gets on the ballot in Utah with the help of volunteers.

At the press conference on Wednesday, Utah volunteer state leader Joe Cook, who coordinated the state’s petition drive, talked about the grassroots effort to get Kennedy on the Utah ballot, thanking volunteers who gathered petition signatures for the candidate.

He said that the signatures were collected before Thanksgiving by a core team of a dozen volunteers, helped by a rally with Kennedy in Salt Lake City on November 30th drawing over 500 local supporters and 100 more petitioners. They gathered signatures in a short period of time in public spaces, outside of sporting events, holiday markets and public libraries, canvassing in snow, rain and freezing temperatures.

Kennedy took the stage soon after Cook and said that Utah has “once again shown that it is the pioneer state, it’s the first of our 50 states and the District of Columbia that we are going to register and get on the ballot.” He thanked his volunteers and talked about how the campaign recently learned that three states are refusing to send his campaign ballot petitions – Maine, New Hampshire and North Dakota.

Why is it so hard to get on the ballot?

Kennedy said, “This is something that would never happen to a presidential campaign from major political parties.” He went on to talk about an issue that his campaign has been continuously discussing concerning the presidential race – which is the “undemocratic lock” that the major political parties have on the process.

He pointed out how most other countries in the world have several political parties that run for office but the Democratic and Republican parties “have succeeded in this country in implementing a number of rules and procedures that make it almost impossible for anybody to challenge, for any normal American, to challenge their chokehold.”

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In Utah, Kennedy was able to get double the number of signatures needed and on-time during a short signature-collecting period. He thanked Lt. Governor Henderson for cooperating and removing an unconstitutional barrier for getting on the ballot, having moved the ballot access deadline from January 8th, 2024 to March 5, 2024.

However, the extra time, in the end, wasn’t even needed as Kennedy’s required signatures were able to be collected quickly. Kennedy said, “Our ground team and volunteers in Utah pulled off an incredible achievement by collecting thousands of signatures in just one week. We didn’t know whether the court would uphold our challenge to the January 8 deadline, so the volunteers had to hurry. They showed the country the depth of commitment on this campaign.”

A labyrinth of arcane rules to suppress dissent.

Kennedy continued to talk about the ballot access processes that are an impediment to democracy – states where his campaign has to negotiate a “labyrinth” of “arcane rules” that are in every state “designed to suppress dissent” and make sure there are no options for Americans outside of the major political parties.

On Kennedy’s campaign’s Ballot Access HQ webpage, it lists the number of petition signatures that vary from state to state – and so do the rules which Kennedy says are “extremely laborious” and “deliberately burdensome” including West Virginia in which they have to register in every county before collecting petition signatures. In Massachusetts, he says they will invalidate an entire page of signatures if there is one stray mark on it. He says that rules like that give the political parties the chance to disrupt ballot access by purposely marking those petitions if given the opportunity.

Other states, Kennedy said, have rules about getting documents notarized and have restrictive days for petition signature gathering, including California where he has to get almost 15,000 signatures a week in order to keep up with the 219,000 signatures needed in a 15-week period.

Getting on the ballot is also costly for the Kennedy campaign. The candidate said that while Trump and Biden can get on the ballot for “free” it’s going to cost his campaign about $15 million to do so. A lot of that money will be underwritten by the super PAC that supports him, American Values 2024.

What is the strategy for the campaign?

The strategy listed on the campaign website to get Kennedy on state ballots includes many steps. Once a state opens for petitioning, their field team and volunteers will gather signatures and then deliver them each week to their state field leadership who will mail them to the secure national signature vault in southern California. At the vault, signatures will be scanned and validated by comparing them to the voter file, a public record of voter names and addresses. This will tell them how many valid signatures that they have – and if any more need to be collected.

The campaign intends to have a buffer of signatures in every state. As the deadline approaches in each state, the petitions will be sent back to their states and be turned in. When the states validate the signatures and affirm that enough have been collected, Kennedy will be certified as a qualified presidential candidate in that state and print his name on the ballot.

Discussing the petition signature collection process and the ballot access in Utah, Stefanie Spear, press secretary for the campaign, said at Wednesday’s press conference, “We’re ready for whatever comes our way. We have the field teams, volunteers, legal teams, paid circulators, supporters, and strategy ready to get the job done.” About Utah, she said, “One down, 50 to go.”

The Kennedy Team is working to get on Michigan ballot.

Regardless of the cost and effort to get on the general ballots across the country for the presidential race, Kennedy, his staff and volunteers are dedicated to moving full steam ahead. In Michigan, Spear told Michigan News Source that the window to collect signatures is open but they need to have their electors certified prior to starting petition collection.

The campaign is currently working to certify their electors and then they will start collecting signatures in the state. She said they will need to collect 12,000 signatures by July 18th but plan to collect more than 19,000 as a buffer.

Kennedy visits Michigan.

Kennedy has been seen in Michigan several times already including stops in Warren (Macomb Community College), Lansing and Flint and inflation was one of his main themes when talking to the voters. During his speech in Lansing, Kennedy said, “I spend a lot of time at kitchen tables with people and talking with them about their lives, and if you tell most Americans today that they are in the midst of a great prosperity they think they’re being gaslighted. People feel that the system is disintegrating.”

In Swartz Creek, Kennedy showed up to join the picket line with the striking UAW workers. He talked to the autoworkers but mostly listened to them. In the end, he picked up a “UAW on strike” sign off the ground and walked the line with them. Then Kennedy headed off to Flint City Hall to discuss the water crisis, meeting with victims of lead poisoning and an activist who say that no one is being held accountable for what happened.

After that, Kennedy met up with city councilman, Eric Mays, to discuss the water crisis. Mays says that the civil settlement and the criminal precedents were “botched.” Kennedy asked him, “Do you think Whitmer undermined it?” to which Mays answered, “I think it was intentional.”

Kennedy’s webpage is diligently broken down on a state-by-state basis with his state site directory. It lists individual state websites for the campaign with information on how to canvas, event listings, and volunteer information. Listed on Kennedy’s Michigan events page are volunteer meetings and other events to rally for the candidate and discuss their ballot access initiative. January 18th is listed as the Ballot Access Initiative Kick-off in Farmington Hills.

A recent Quinnipiac poll shows Kennedy outpaces Biden and Trump among independents – Kennedy 36%, Biden 32%, and Trump 26%. Kennedy also beats Trump and Biden among voters ages 18-34 with 40% of the vote compared to Biden’s 36% and Trump’s 21%. A New York Times/Siena poll shows Kennedy closing the gap on Trump and Biden in six battleground states including Michigan. In these states, he comes within single digits of the two-party candidates and also beats Trump and Biden among 18-44 year olds.