Ballot Access Laws Are Undemocratic. Here’s How We Can Fix Them.

Published by Robert Kennedy Jr. on

In George Washington’s farewell address, America’s first and only independent president warned that the rise of political parties would eventually “subvert the power of the people.” Today’s rigged ballot access laws prove the enduring truth of Washington’s words. RFK Jr.’s Policies + PoliticsRead More

In George Washington’s farewell address, America’s first and only independent president warned that the rise of political parties would eventually “subvert the power of the people.” Today’s rigged ballot access laws prove the enduring truth of Washington’s words.

Extreme ballot access restrictions for independent and third-party candidates are among the worst forms of voter suppression in America today. They artificially prop up the two-party duopoly, even as 63% of American adults agree that the Republican and Democratic parties do such a poor job of representing the American people that another choice is needed.

Whereas most democracies have multi-party systems, Democrats and Republicans have created over the last several decades a byzantine ballot access process to stop independents and third parties. Each state has different signature numbers, petitioning windows, circulator requirements, petition forms with varying fields, and other rules.

This gallimaufry of ballot access requirements entrenches the power of the two major parties, who would rather force my independent campaign to spend millions of dollars getting on the ballot than face us in a fair contest of ideas. 

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Here are some of the most egregious hurdles an independent campaign must overcome to get on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia:

It must collect about 1 million valid pen-and-paper signatures through petitions across the country. (Effectively, this means closer to 1.5 million to ensure that enough are valid.) Normally this entails a budget of $10-15 million to hire professional petition circulators who can navigate the maze of confusing rules. 

Arcane petitioning rules are different in each state. This entails copious administrative work requiring whole teams of people with expertise dedicated to deciphering the rules of each state. States like West Virginia make campaigns file paperwork in every county before starting to collect signatures, while some states have notarization and congressional district signature requirements. Worse, secretaries of state are often unfamiliar with their own rules, and they sometimes give incorrect or contradictory instructions on their website or over calls and emails. An independent campaign must go back and forth with state officials, involve their attorneys, or sue.

24 states require electors on the petition forms, and 27 require a vice presidential nominee. This prevents an independent campaign from starting to petition until it has chosen a vice president and/or navigated the elector slating process, which is its own administrative labyrinth. Each state has different rules on how independents appoint electors, whether they need to be geographically apportioned by congressional district, how and when they can be replaced, whether alternates are needed, and what forms to file and when. 

Some states have huge signature requirements and narrow petitioning windows. California requires 219,403 valid signatures in 15 weeks, which comes out to 14,600 signatures a week, a feat that no independent campaign has ever accomplished. Texas requires 113,151 valid signatures in 11 weeks. 

Democrat and Republican state legislatures can capriciously change their rules to sabotage any petition drive or third party. In 2020, New York tripled their signature requirement from 15,000 to 45,000 without expanding the six-week petitioning window, throwing the Green, Libertarian, and Independence parties off the ballot. Massachusetts requires 10,000 signatures and in the past has invalidated entire petition sheets due to one stray mark.

Litigation. An independent campaign must defend its petitions against the inevitable onslaught of litigation by Democrat and Republican lawyers hired to keep it off the ballot with expensive, time-consuming legal nitpicking.

Fortunately, my campaign has a massive base of grassroots supporters and a robust legal team that will overcome these hurdles to get my name on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

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We already secured a legal victory against the state of Utah, which agreed to move its unduly burdensome ballot access deadline for independent candidates from Jan. 8, 2024 to March 5, 2024.

But the fact that my campaign is exceptionally well-prepared for this challenge doesn’t make it OK. A campaign should not have to devote its money, time, and energy to ballot access, but rather to speaking to voters to win their support. The current system amounts to deliberate and arbitrary suppression of the democratic process. 

As a country, there is much we can do to make our ballot rules more sensible, and to bring them in line with democratic values.

State officials should work together to streamline and standardize ballot access procedures. Virtually every aspect of modern life — besides petitioning — has entered the digital age. You can buy health care, pay your taxes, manage your Veterans Affairs benefits, purchase a car, and do practically anything else online except sign petitions for independent candidates, parties, and state initiatives. 

There is no legitimate reason why petitioning alone should be kept in the analog world, requiring pen-and-paper signatures which then have to be validated by state employees in a ridiculous process that could easily be brought online and made much simpler. 

In a democracy, the people are supposed to decide who gets into office, not state officials and party operatives who look for ways to prevent popular candidates from getting on the ballot.

To fix our broken ballot access system, the American people will need to pressure state and national lawmakers to build a better, more democratic process. When I am elected as America’s first independent president since George Washington, I will lead the way.

Want to help? Pledge your signature today! Once the Kennedy campaign begins collecting signatures in your state, you will be contacted on how you can sign our official ballot-access petition.

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