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RFK Jr. sues Maine's secretary of state over polling place access

Voters entering the polling station at the Expo building in Portland on Tuesday.
Ari Snider
Maine Public
Voters entering the polling station at the Expo building in Portland in Nov. 2023.

The campaign of independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is suing Maine's top election official over access to polling places next month.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, Kennedy's campaign claims that Secretary of State Shenna Bellows is wrongly denying his campaign the ability to gather petition signatures inside polling locations during the March 5 presidential primaries. His attorneys argue that, because Kennedy is not on the ballot that day, his campaign's presence would not potentially influence voters.

The lawsuit points out that the campaigns for several Republican and Democratic candidates for president were able to set up signature-collection operations at tables inside polling places last November. The campaign's attorneys contend that by denying Kennedy the same opportunity, Bellows is violating the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

But Bellows stood by her instructions to clerks to not to allow the Kennedy campaign to collect signatures at polling places on March 5.

“Maine law is very clear: within the voting place itself, a person may not influence another person's decision regarding a candidate for an office or question that is on the ballot for the election that day," Bellows said in a statement. "That’s why no presidential campaign can collect signatures on presidential primary day. That being said, when a candidate’s office is not on the ballot, they can absolutely collect signatures. There’s a statewide election in June. Certainly Mr. Kennedy can collect signatures then."

Kennedy is the son of former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy. But he isbest known as the leader of a controversial, national anti-vaccination campaign. He initially launched a Democratic primary bid against President Joe Biden before withdrawing to run as an independent. Many members of the Kennedy family have distanced themselves from his campaign because of his controversial stances on vaccines and health issues.

He is now scrambling to qualify for the ballot in states across the country. In Maine, independent candidates for president must collect at least 4,000 signatures from registered voters to qualify for the general election ballot.

Kennedy has also filed lawsuits over ballot access in other states, including Utah and Idaho. In their court filing in federal court in Maine, attorneys Stephen Whiting of Portland and Paul Rossi of Pennsylvania went after Bellows, Biden and the Democratic Party.

"Defendant, the Maine Secretary of State, is out of control, exposing herself as a Democrat partisan hack, disinterested in the rule of law, basic
constitutional protections, in favor of peacocking around as the lap dog of an incompetent, desperate, senile President, whose political team has apparently issued Defenant (sic) instructions from the White House to clear Maine’s 2024 general election ballot from any opposition that might threaten to deprive Joe Biden of Maine’s 4 electoral college votes – Constitution be damned,” reads the lawsuit's introduction.

Bellows drew national attention for ruling that former President Donald Trump was not qualified to appear on Maine's Republican presidential ballot because of his efforts to overturn the 2020 elections and his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attacks on the U.S. Capitol. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule any day on a nearly identical ballot access case from Colorado. In the meantime, Trump's name will appear on the March 5 ballot in Maine.