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    Tuesday, July 23, 2024

    RFK Jr. won’t meet CNN debate requirement for ballot access

    Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has repeatedly claimed that he appears on enough statewide ballots to qualify for next week’s debate between President Biden and Donald Trump and has threatened to sue CNN for not letting him on the stage.

    But a Washington Post survey of state election officials found Kennedy is not on the ballot in several states where he has claimed he is — and he will not reach the requirement by Thursday’s deadline to qualify for the debate. The rules of CNN’s debate indicate candidates must appear on enough ballots nationwide to earn the requisite 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, along with earning 15 percent support in four national polls.

    Election officials in Utah, Delaware, Oklahoma, Michigan and Tennessee have confirmed Kennedy will be on the ballot. Additionally, CNN has counted California and Hawaii, where Kennedy is the presumptive nominee of minor parties where the states have either not certified him or received paperwork. Those states add up to 100 electoral votes. Kennedy also has not yet met the polling requirement for the debate, though could if a qualifying poll is released before Thursday.

    Kennedy intended to get on all 50 states’ ballots quickly as he sought to gain national attention that would come from sharing a debate stage with the two major-party candidates. Kennedy has pointed to his exclusion as evidence that he has been treated unfairly by the parties and the media.

    His campaign has spent months gathering the signatures that states require for independent candidates — those not affiliated with a political party — to appear on the ballot in November. Those signatures are then verified by state election officials before the candidate is certified to appear. Kennedy can also appear on states’ ballots if he’s nominated by a minor political party that has already petitioned for ballot access. But many election officials told The Post they won’t certify those petitions or green-light minor party nominees for several weeks, making it impossible for Kennedy to check off the requirement in time for the debate.

    Kennedy’s campaign has argued that Biden and Trump similarly should not qualify for the stage under CNN’s rules because they have not yet officially been selected as the presidential nominee by their respective parties. The Republican and Democratic nominating conventions are in July and August, respectively. But CNN has said that because Trump and Biden are their respective parties’ presumptive nominees, and major-party candidates don’t have to petition states for ballot access, both satisfy the electoral college criteria for the debate, according to CNN.

    “The mere application for ballot access does not guarantee that he will appear on the ballot in any state,” a CNN spokeswoman wrote in an email to The Post. “In addition, RFK, Jr. does not currently meet our polling criteria, which, like the other objective criteria, were set before issuing invitations to the debate.”

    Statements from Kennedy’s campaign and on his website have depicted Kennedy’s ballot effort using various descriptors. A tracker on his campaign website lists 23 states where it declares “petitioning complete,” but when you select a state, it is then described as “on the ballot.”

    “While the dark purple color indicating ‘petitioning complete’ is accurate, the statement below, ‘We’re on the ballot’ is premature,” Kathleen McGrath, a New York Board of Elections spokeswoman, wrote in an email, adding the board will certify in “the late summer” after reviewing objections to the petition.

    Campaign spokeswoman Stefanie Spear did not respond to questions about the discrepancies in the campaign’s claims about Kennedy’s ballot access, but she said questioning Kennedy’s failure to meet the 270 electoral votes requirement was “nonsensical.”

    “The bottom line is he is eligible for more electoral votes than both Presidents Trump and Biden,” Spear wrote in an email.

    The campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission on May 29, alleging that Biden, Trump, their respective campaigns and CNN “colluded” to leave Kennedy off the debate stage, but the FEC disputes typically take a while to resolve.

    In news releases, Kennedy’s campaign also has claimed ballot access it has not achieved. The campaign first claimed it had “surpassed eligibility” in a June 7 news release, listing nine states where Kennedy was “officially” on the ballot: Utah, Michigan, California, Delaware, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Texas, South Carolina and Florida. However, officials in Florida, California, Hawaii, Texas, and South Carolina told The Post that, while Kennedy has either submitted petitions or been nominated by a minor party with ballot access, their certification process is not yet complete.

    In Florida, Kennedy has been nominated by the Reform Party, a centrist party created by Ross Perot in 1995. But the near-defunct political party had lost its ballot access last year and has yet to complete the paperwork to get reinstated and Kennedy on the ballot, according to Reform Party national chair Nicholas Hensley. Hensley said they expect to meet the September deadline to get Kennedy on the ballot in Florida, which is far past CNN’s June 20 debate deadline. The assertion that Kennedy is on the ballot in the state has been left out of future press releases issued by the campaign but remains on the website.

    “I think someone got ahead of the horse,” Hensley said.

    In South Carolina, election officials said the Alliance Party — a minor party with ballot access in the state — nominated Kennedy, but they also received petitions submitted on Kennedy’s behalf to run as an independent. Despite verbalizing his acceptance of the Alliance Party’s nomination, state election officials said they haven’t received written confirmation of his acceptance, meaning Kennedy isn’t officially on the ballot, as he claims.

    “We anticipate him being on the ballot, but we can’t say for certain,” said John Michael Catalano, South Carolina State Election Commission spokesman.

    Seeking ballot access as an independent candidate is cumbersome, costing a large sum of money to attain by signature collectors in many states as well as lawyers to adhere to a complex patchwork of election laws that vary state by state. Kennedy has sued election officials in Nevada, New York and Idaho, arguing the rules are unfair or illegal. In New York, for instance, where his lawyer said the campaign spent $1.1 million on gathering signatures, Kennedy’s campaign faces a slew of challenges from Democratic groups. Those groups allege Kennedy’s petition should be disqualified because he gave an address that isn’t his home and tens of thousands of the signatures were illegible or didn’t belong to New York voters. The Kennedy campaign has not responded to all of the allegations, but told media outlets that Kennedy considers the New York home his legitimate address.

    Third-party candidates would typically be advantaged by the late summer deadlines for ballot access, allowing them time to continue to organize even after major-party candidates are nominated, said Bernard Tamas, a political science professor at Valdosta State University in Georgia and author of “The Demise and Rebirth of American Third Parties.” Kennedy has said he has strategically delayed some petitions to avoid challenges.

    “His problem is, for the debate, it’s so fast that it’s not set up for him to get on,” Tamas said. “It’s just a moment that’s not working for him.”

    Kennedy has sought out easier paths to getting on the ballot, including seeking the nominations of minor parties that already have ballot access in states or creating his own minor party. However, that has come with its own challenges and confusion.

    In North Carolina, Democratic groups are challenging the maneuver, which has also been deployed by independent Cornel West, arguing the party has no political platform except to provide ballot access and identifying some voters who signed the petition not knowing the party’s intent. The board of election officials that determines ballot access has yet to rule on the complaints.

    Meanwhile, election officials in Hawaii say they have not received the nomination of Kennedy’s We the People party which Kennedy recently formed in an effort to get on more ballots.

    “He may be the presumptive nominee through the We The People party which has qualified to field candidates in the 2024 elections, but we cannot say who will be on the ballot until we’ve received nominees from a qualified political party,” Aulii Tenn, spokeswoman for the state’s office of elections, wrote in an email.

    On Monday, Kennedy’s campaign declared yet another state it had achieved ballot access in, Mississippi, where his own party nominated him, according to a news release. But, in the same email, Kennedy’s campaign acknowledged the party had not yet submitted the paperwork to the state.

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