RFK Jr. sues Utah over ballot access requirements

The independent presidential candidate argues the state’s January deadline for gathering signatures is unfair.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at a rally in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023.

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign has sued Utah in federal court, asserting the Beehive State’s Jan. 8 deadline for submitting signatures to secure a spot on the ballot is unconstitutionally restrictive.

Utah law requires independent presidential candidates to submit 1,000 verified signatures by early January to appear on November’s ballot. In a lawsuit filed Monday, Kennedy’s campaign and a coalition of other plaintiffs argued the deadline violated his constitutional rights.

“The current deadline is the earliest deadline ever sought to be imposed on independent presidential candidates in the modern era,” the complaint reads. “No federal court has ever upheld a January deadline (for independent presidential candidates).”

In the 2020 election cycle, Utah’s deadline for independent presidential candidates to submit signatures was Aug. 17. That date was accelerated to Jan. 8 when the Legislature moved the filing period for all candidates to the first week in January.

RFK Lawsuit vs. Utah by The Salt Lake Tribune on Scribd

The lawsuit names Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and Director of Elections Ryan Cowley as defendants. The complaint says Utah’s deadline is so restrictive it will likely require Kennedy’s campaign to hire paid signature gatherers to reach the goal.

“To collect the 1,500 to 1,600 raw signatures — in the middle of December’s cold weather, sufficient to guarantee that at least 1,000 of the signatures will be validated in time to meet the January 8, (2024), deadline,” the court filing reads, “Plaintiff RFK will be forced at the end of next week, at the latest, to make the decision to hire professional petition circulators at a cost of between $7 and $10 per valid signature by late next week.”

Henderson declined to comment on the specifics of Kennedy’s suit.

“We are reviewing the complaint, we have no comment at this time,” Henderson’s office said in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Paul Rossi, attorney for Kennedy’s campaign, said that in 1984, Utah imposed an April 15 deadline for independent candidates to submit signatures. When that was challenged in court, the state acknowledged that the date was unconstitutional — and ignored the deadline.

“Utah admitted in federal court it was so unconstitutional, they weren’t going to follow it,” Rossi said. “They told all the independent candidates running in Utah to submit their petition papers by mid-September, and that would be fine.”

Rossi said the new January deadline is so blatantly unconstitutional that he expects a swift ruling in his client’s favor.

“They moved the deadline up for obvious reasons — to block any third-party candidates from appearing on Utah’s ballot,” Rossi said. “It shows an absolute contempt for the Constitution.”

The plaintiffs requested an emergency restraining order to block Utah from enforcing the deadline.

Hundreds of Utahns attended a rally headlined by Kennedy in Salt Lake City last week. During the event, the independent candidate repeated far-right conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic and blamed corporations for the nation’s housing crisis.