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RFK Jr. plans to file lawsuit against Nevada over ballot access

RFK Jr. claims to qualify for Texas ballot
RFK Jr. campaign submits signatures for Texas ballot access 02:57

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is planning to file a lawsuit against the Nevada Secretary of State's office, CBS News has learned, nearly two months after learning that his campaign would likely have to restart signature gathering in the Silver State.

In early March, the campaign announced that it had collected more than 15,000 signatures in Nevada, but before Kennedy had named a running mate, which is required by state law to start the petition process for independent candidates. 

In late March, the Nevada Secretary of State's Office acknowledged, however, that a staffer wrongly informed the campaign that it did not need to name a vice-presidential pick on the petition. However, in a statement Thursday provided to CBS News, Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar said his office is prepared to face Kennedy in court, given that his campaign received guidance with the statutes made clear.

"Nevada has a rich history of independent and third party candidates for office. Each of those candidates managed to attain ballot access by following the law. We look forward to seeing Mr. Kennedy's team in court," Aguilar said.

With over a month left to gather new signatures, the campaign will likely run out of time to start over in Nevada if it pursues litigation in court and loses the case.

In a May 23 settlement letter written by Paul Rossi, the Kennedy campaign's lead ballot access attorney, he warned the secretary of state's office that Kennedy was prepared to file a lawsuit Friday unless the office agrees to settle with the campaign. Rossi offered to drop any charges and avoid litigation costs in exchange for the office validating the signatures. 

Rossi proposed circulating Nicole Shanahan's name in newspapers around the state to correct the omission of RFK Jr.'s running mate on the petition. Additionally, anyone who signed Kennedy's petition may withdraw their support if they choose to, Rossi offered.

"We are happy to discuss and iron out any details to reach an acceptable settlement of this unique factual circumstance," Rossi wrote. 

A similar case occurred in 2008, when the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority filed a petition with the secretary of state's office to put an education and infrastructure funding initiative on the ballot. The secretary of state's office determined that the petition was invalid because the form violated state guidelines, and that decision was later upheld by the Nevada Supreme Court.

Kennedy was not the only independent candidate to learn he would have to start over in Nevada. Independent presidential candidate Cornel West submitted a new petition to the secretary of state's office in April, the same day he revealed his running mate, Melina Abdullah, a California-based pan-African studies professor, and leader of the California chapter of Black Lives Matter, according to the secretary of state's office.

"In early March, the Secretary of State's office sent guidance to all independent campaigns for president that had filed petitions for ballot access," Aguilar said in his statement to CBS News. "This guidance highlighted the statutory requirements necessary for petitions to be valid. The guidance was sent well in advance of the deadline to submit signatures, which still has not passed. While some campaigns took the opportunity to refile petitions with our office, others did not." 

Prior to the settlement letter, the secretary of state's office told CBS News it had not heard from the campaign since March, when it first sent a memo for ballot access guidance. 

This also comes one day after Kennedy's campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission that accuses CNN, President Biden, former President Donald Trump and their campaigns of violating federal election law for not inviting him to take part in the June 27 presidential debate. 

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