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RFK Jr.’s ‘clever move’ to help earn ballot access nationwide: Allying with little-known parties

Written by on May 6, 2024

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speak at a press conference in the Brooklyn borough of New York, on May 1, 2024. (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

(NEW YORK) — One Saturday last month, several dozen members of the Alaskan Independence Party, a small, largely unknown political group whose primary goal is to put Alaskan secession from the United States to a vote, gathered in Fairbanks for their biennial convention.

Among the topics of conversation: whether to nominate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for president.

The party ultimately rejected Kennedy, who is running as an independent, after a few outspoken members said they did not want him atop their 2024 ticket, according to John Howe, the party’s chairman, who was involved in the discussions.

“There was serious consideration,” Howe, a machine shop owner, told ABC News.

The decision to pass on Kennedy was seen as a blow to the candidate — “They wanted us to put him on the ballot,” Howe said — as Kennedy works to overcome the biggest obstacle to his plans to run as a major outside candidate in November: getting on the ballot across the country.

Typically, independent candidates must undergo the painstaking, expensive process of gathering thousands of signatures from registered voters in each state in order to qualify for ballot access.

But a candidate can bypass those requirements if a political party that already has ballot access in a given state nominates them to lead their ticket there.

Kennedy has successfully employed that strategy in Michigan and California, where he will technically appear on the ballot as the nominee for the Natural Law Party of Michigan and the American Independent Party of California.

What’s more, his campaign has been in contact with minor parties in at least six other states, too, ABC News has learned through conversations with leaders in more than a dozen minor parties across the country. (The Kennedy campaign did not return requests for comment for this story or respond to the details that the party leaders provided.)

“As the campaign sees and recognizes that these are very convenient vessels out there, it’s a clever move, and it’s not a surprise they do it,” Derek Muller, a University of Notre Dame professor specializing in election law, told ABC News.

Early polling of the 2024 race suggests Kennedy could take a notable amount of support in a close race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the two leading candidates — if Kennedy makes it on the ballot. A new ABC News/Ipsos survey of adults found Kennedy with 12% in a hypothetical five-way election with Trump, Biden and two other candidates, Cornel West and Jill Stein.

Kennedy’s campaign claims to have made it on the ballot in 10 states so far, including the battlegrounds of Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina. Elections offices in three states have confirmed to ABC News that Kennedy is on the ballot. In other states, officials have said they can’t yet confirm his candidacy.

Kennedy’s strategy of linking with minor parties has encountered both challenges and success. In some cases, like Alaska, the parties have rejected him while in others, they are actively speaking with his campaign about nominating him.

His campaign tried and failed to earn the nomination of the Unity Party of Colorado, which chose instead to back West, another independent candidate, Tijani Cole, the party’s chairman, told ABC News in an email.

The Alliance Party, a national group with ballot access in Minnesota and South Carolina, has been more receptive.

“National Alliance Party leadership has begun early conversations with the campaign for potential mutual support,” Phil Feuhrer, the party’s national co-vice chair, told ABC News in an email.

“If we reach full agreement with the campaign and our internal statewide leadership teams, it would include placement onto the South Carolina ballot as well as the Minnesota Independence-Alliance taking lead on placing the campaign onto the Minnesota ballot,” Feuhrer added, using the official name of Minnesota’s branch of the party.

“Those conversations are young and still ongoing.”

Kennedy’s camp is also in talks with the Reform Party, which has ballot access in Florida and Mississippi, according to party leaders.

Jenniffer Desatoff, the party’s Florida chair, told ABC News they are “continuing communication with the Kennedy campaign at this time.” (Kennedy’s campaign also contacted the Ecology Party of Florida but was informed the party does not have a ballot line in the presidential race, the party’s chair, Cara Campbell, told ABC News.)

Elsewhere, the Kennedy campaign twice reached out to representatives of the Constitution Party, which has ballot access in nearly a dozen states, but the party and the campaign were never able to connect, Donna Ivanovich, a spokeswoman for the party, told ABC News.

Meanwhile, Kennedy has formed a party of its own, We the People, to secure ballot access in several states, including in Delaware, Hawaii and North Carolina. In those states, the signature threshold to make the ballot is lower for candidates aligned with a party than for independent candidates.

Although other independent candidates ally with minor parties for ballot access — like West is also doing in the 2024 race — the breadth and “coordination” of Kennedy’s effort stands out, said Muller, the Notre Dame election law expert.

“You usually don’t see this kind of coordination and effort because the candidacies are usually not serious enough to make the outreach to all these parties in all these different states,” he told ABC News.

But by aligning himself with small, often niche parties, Kennedy risks absorbing the burden of their sometimes checkered history, some observers warned.

The American Independent Party of California, which nominated Kennedy last month, had backed George Wallace, the former Alabama governor and notorious segregationist, in the 1960s.

In a video announcing his nomination, Kennedy acknowledged the party’s past support for Wallace but said 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,” he said.

Another problem with wooing minor parties is that Kennedy’s beliefs sometimes don’t align with theirs.

The members of the Alaskan Independence Party who rejected Kennedy as the party’s nominee were wary he would agree with them on their view that government-owned land should be given back to Alaskans, Howe, the party chairman, told ABC News.

But Kennedy’s chances at winning the nomination may have sunk days before the convention when he failed to win over the previous chair of the Alaskan Independence Party, Bob Bird, in a radio interview with Bird.

“The AIP will not be placing RFK on the ballot,” Bird wrote in a column after the interview, casting Kennedy as an outsider.

“Our liberty and prosperity must come from within ourselves,” Bird wrote, “not from a knight galloping in from the Lower 48.”

ABC News’ Isabella Murray and Oren Oppenheim contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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