Surprise Tactics and Legal Threats: Inside R.F.K. Jr.’s Ballot Access Fight

As Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s independent presidential campaign mounts a bruising state-by-state battle for ballot access, he has often credited enthusiastic volunteers and grass-roots backers with driving the effort.

In fact, the operation has become increasingly reliant on consultants and paid petitioners whose signature-gathering work has yielded mixed results and raised questions of impropriety, even among Mr. Kennedy’s fans. In order to get Mr. Kennedy on the ballot in all 50 states, as is his goal, his campaign has deployed a multipart strategy: aggressive legal action, shrewd political alliances and surprise filing tactics meant to slow or prevent challenges.

In most states, Mr. Kennedy, 70, an environmental lawyer and heir to an American political dynasty, must produce thousands of signatures, under rules that are varied, intricate and confusing at times even to the local officials administering elections. The effort has already cost his campaign hundreds of thousands of dollars, and a supporting super PAC at least $2.4 million more, federal campaign finance records show. It has involved a number of professionals who specialize in getting people on the ground with clipboards and petitions, and helping candidates navigate the complicated process. Their success is what will make or break Mr. Kennedy’s campaign.

This month, Mr. Kennedy got on the ballot in Michigan, a key presidential battleground, by securing the nomination of a minor political party. He will soon officially be on the ballot in Hawaii, having overcome a challenge from the local Democratic Party. As of Sunday, the campaign says it has gathered enough signatures to submit petitions in sixother states, including New Hampshire, Nevada and North Carolina, with more expected to be announced this week.

“Ballot access is existential for any campaign. It is also essential for a healthy and prosperous democracy,” said Stefanie Spear, a spokeswoman for the campaign. “The Kennedy-Shanahan ticket will be on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. We have the field teams, volunteers, legal teams, paid circulators, supporters and strategists ready to get the job done.”

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