The Bulletin

Democratic-aligned group vows lawsuit to try to block Kanye West from Virginia’s presidential ballot

By: - August 28, 2020 5:22 pm

Rapper Kanye West, second left, stands up as he speaks during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval office of the White House on October 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Oliver Contreras – Pool/Getty Images)

Rapper Kanye West has qualified to appear on Virginia’s presidential ballot in November, according to state election officials, but Democrats are trying to block him because some Virginia voters his paperwork identifies as supporters say they didn’t know what they were signing up for.

The Virginia Department of Elections confirmed Friday evening that West was approved to be on the ballot as an independent. The agency verified West submitted more than 5,000 valid petition signatures from Virginia voters and met the requirement to file at least 200 signatures from each of the state’s 11 congressional districts.

But the 13 names he submitted as Virginia electors – the people who would cast their votes for West in the Electoral College in the highly unlikely event he wins Virginia – are in dispute because some of those people say they weren’t told they were helping West.

Last week, New York Magazine reported that seven of the 13 Virginians identified as West electors were “either unaware that they signed up to cast electoral votes on his behalf, or that they had signed notarized paperwork connected to the rapper’s presidential bid at all.”

A spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia circulated a news release Saturday from “a group of concerned Virginia voters and citizens” promising litigation to try to block West from appearing on the ballot.

“Legitimate candidates for President and Vice President would have no difficulty locating 13 Virginians willing to serve as their electors,” the group said in its release. “Instead, Mr. West or those working on his behalf resorted to deception to falsely represent that he had obtained the support of the requisite number of electors. This undercuts the democratic process to be tricked into doing something you would not do freely.”

One of West’s identified electors, Matthan Wilson of Suffolk, is listed as a prospective plaintiff in the litigation.

Wilson, a 53-year-old government teacher who works in Newport News, said in an interview that he was riding his bike on Aug. 11 when he was approached by three people who asked him if he wanted to be a Virginia elector. He said they did not mention they were working for West.

“No offense to Mr. West, but if they had mentioned him I would not have signed,” Wilson said. “I wouldn’t have stayed there. I would’ve left.”

The electors, including Wilson, signed notarized oaths promising to vote for West and his vice presidential running mate Michelle Tidball. The oath itself does not include West’s name, but the accompanying petitions do.

Wilson said he only learned he had been identified as a West-supporting elector when another reporter called him. Upon finding out what had happened, he said, he felt embarrassed and angry.

“How are you going to have a situation where you allow this to happen?,” Wilson said. “This isn’t democracy. I can’t be tricked into giving you a vote or a vote of confidence. It should be my free will. And it felt like my free will was taken away.”

The group threatening a lawsuit did not specify when litigation would be filed or what lawyers would be working on its behalf.

Some have speculated that West is trying to draw African-American votes away from Democratic nominee Joe Biden, a claim he did not deny in an interview with Forbes in which he said that, rather than running for president, he was “walking… to win.”

The Democratic efforts to keep West off Virginia’s ballot suggests they have at least some concern the celebrity candidate could hurt Biden’s chances in the state, even though Democrats have won every statewide race for the last decade. In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton beat President Donald Trump in Virginia by about 212,000 votes.

A legal challenge could center on whether a court finds West’s associates actively misled people or decides it was the signers’ responsibility to read and understand what they were signing.

State law requires those who agree to be electors to cast their Electoral College votes for the candidate named in the paperwork they signed. Those votes occur at a little-noticed ceremony at the state Capitol after each presidential election.

The dispute will have to be resolved quickly. Election officials have to start printing ballots soon to have them ready in time for the start of absentee voting on Sept. 18. The State Board of Elections, the body that oversees the elections department, is not required to sign off on the final ballot form. The board is not scheduled to meet until Sept. 15, well after the ballots must be prepped and ready to go out to the hundreds of thousands of Virginians who have already asked to vote absentee.

It wasn’t immediately apparent what impact West’s presence on the ballot might have in Virginia or whether he has any intention of campaigning in the state. An email and phone call to the address and number listed on West’s paperwork were not returned.

Numerous media reports have indicated Republican operatives helped West try to get on the ballot in other states, though it wasn’t immediately clear if that was the case in Virginia. West’s paperwork identifies numerous people who circulated petitions in Virginia on his behalf, many of whom listed out-of-state addresses.

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.

West has already been disqualified from the ballot in several other states for inadequate paperwork.

His website lists a range of Bible verses and policy positions, starting with “creating a culture of life.”

Libertarian presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen also qualified to appear on Virginia’s ballot.

For now, West’s name is on the official candidate list posted on Virginia’s election website.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.