With the help of a high-profile Democratic law firm, Virginia voters who claim they were tricked into signing campaign paperwork supporting Kanye West have filed a lawsuit seeking to block the rapper from appearing on Virginia’s presidential ballot.
The suit, filed Tuesday in Richmond Circuit Court, asks the court to order election officials to either decertify West’s candidacy or delay printing ballots until the fraud allegations can be sorted out.
With ballots being finalized and sent to printers this week, the last-minute legal battle will determine whether West’s longshot operation, widely seen as a Republican-backed effort to sap votes from Democratic nominee Joe Biden, will or won’t be a factor in Virginia.
Perkins Coie, a law firm that represents the Democratic National Committee, is involved in the suit after Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker tried unsuccessfully to convince state election officials to declare West’s paperwork invalid.
The suit doesn’t question the validity of the more than 5,000 petition signatures West’s campaign filed, focusing instead on the notarized oaths from the 13 people identified as his presidential electors. In the highly unlikely event West wins Virginia’s popular vote, the electors would cast votes for him in the Electoral College.
The lawsuit claims 11 of those 13 electoral oaths are improper. At least three were obtained deceptively, the suit alleges, and eight others have notarization irregularities.
The suit names the Virginia State Board of Elections and the Virginia Department of Elections, which placed West on the ballot after checking his paperwork last week, as defendants.
“Defendants are gatekeepers of the commonwealth’s democratic process and have a plain duty to ensure that the only candidates who appear on Virginia’s ballots are those who have met minimum ballot access qualifications under Virginia law,” the suit says. “Furthermore, in this case they have a clear duty to revisit and reverse their decision to qualify West’s candidacy and to take all appropriate action to ensure that the fraud that permeates the elector oaths does not taint the November presidential election.”
In a response filed Wednesday afternoon, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring’s office said the state stands ready to remove West from the ballot if the court orders it.
“The Commonwealth of Virginia, including the state elections officials and entities named as defendants, does not tolerate any type of election fraud,” the attorney general’s office wrote.
The state asked for an emergency hearing in the case, citing the “extreme time pressure” election officials are under to print ballots ahead of a surge in absentee voting starting Sept. 18. The ballots are supposed to be finalized and sent to printers by Friday. Some localities, including Virginia Beach, had already sent them to their printing vendor before the West litigation arose, according to the state.
Each day ballot printing is delayed, the state said, “risks disenfranchising voters who requested mail-in ballots.” The state suggested that if the court disqualifies West after ballots are printed, election officials could post notices at polling places warning voters he is not a legitimate candidate, even though his name will be on their ballots.
Two of West’s identified electors, Matthan Wilson and Bryan Wright, are serving as plaintiffs in the case, arguing they were deprived of their constitutional rights by signing paperwork under “false pretenses.” Wilson says he was never told the document he signed involved Kanye West. Wright says he believed he was signing a petition for West, but was not told he was being asked to be an elector.
A third elector, Samantha Durant, claims the oath she signed was not notarized in her presence.
All three now want to withdraw their oaths, the suit says.
The suit also challenges the validity of eight electoral oaths notarized by a woman named Bria Fitzgerald, claiming they should not count because Fitzgerald herself is one of West’s electors.
Because electors for the winning candidate get $50 for traveling to Richmond to to take part in the post-election ceremony, the suit says, Fitzgerald had a “financial interest” in getting West on the ballot and should not have notarized any of the oaths. Paid employees of political campaigns are not allowed to notarize documents for that campaign, though it’s not clear if Fitzgerald was a paid employee.
Additionally, Fitzgerald’s own elector oath was notarized by someone whose notary commission appears to be expired in the state’s online records. The paperwork filed by the West campaign indicates that person’s commission won’t expire until 2021.
West’s campaign has not yet responded to the suit. On Saturday, a reporter for New York Magazine noted that an address tied to West in a lawsuit he filed to gain access to the ballot in Wisconsin matches the address of Virginia-based GOP elections law firm Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky. State Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Fauquier, is the firm’s managing partner.