Should Kanye Be On Virginia’s Ballot? Lawsuit Accuses Campaign of Fraud

Kanye West makes his first presidential campaign appearance, July 19, 2020 in North Charleston, S.C. (Lauren Petracca Ipetracca/The Post And Courier via AP)

By Brian Carlton

September 2, 2020

Two of Kanye West’s electors claim the campaign got their signatures under false pretense. They’ve filed a lawsuit to get him off the presidential ballot in Virginia.

RICHMOND-In order to stay on Virginia’s presidential ballot, Kanye West has to win in court on Thursday. Two Virginia residents filed a lawsuit against the State Board of Elections in Richmond Circuit Court Tuesday, claiming the campaign tricked them into signing West’s paperwork.

In order to get on Virginia’s ballot as an independent, candidates like West have to provide multiple documents. First, they need a petition from at least 5,000 registered voters, including 200 signatures from each congressional district. Second, they need signed and notarized “oaths” from 13 electors, residents who promise to cast votes in the Electoral College for the candidate, should they win the state. 

That’s where the accusation comes in. Suffolk residents Matthan Wilson and Bryan Wright both appear on West’s campaign paperwork, listed as two of his 13 electors. In the lawsuit, both men claim they signed under false pretenses, making it clear they don’t intend to vote for West or support his campaign. 

A Case of ‘False Pretenses’ 

According to Matthan Wilson’s affidavit, he was riding his bike on Aug. 11 when someone came up to him with a petition. The person, who didn’t give any identification, asked if Wilson would agree to be an “elector for the state.” If he signed, Wilson was told, his name “would be entered into a pool to be individually picked to be part of the Electoral College.” 

The person never mentioned Kanye West’s name, Wilson says in his affidavit. He “would not have signed the Elector Oath had he been told the truth about the meaning of the document he was signing,” the lawsuit states. “Wilson never intended, and does not presently intend, to serve as an elector for the West campaign or to perform the duties of elector for West’s campaign.” 

Fellow plaintiff Bryan Wright tells a similar story. Also approached on Aug. 11, a person asked Wright to sign a petition to get West on the ballot as an independent candidate. The person who came up to him didn’t say anything about an Elector’s Oath, Wright said. A self-described committed Republican, Wright said in his affidavit “if I had known that by signing the form, I committed to act as an elector for Kanye West and Michelle Tidball, and to vote for them as an elector, I never would have done so.” 

Washington D.C.-based firm Perkins Coie LLP represents Wright and Wilson in the case. In addition to the plantiffs, the lawyers interviewed a third elector, Samantha Durant. She also claims the campaign collected her oath under false pretense. Similar to the others, Durant says a person approached her on Aug. 11, claiming to represent an independent political campaign. She said nobody mentioned Kanye West’s name. Instead, she says the person asked her “to sign a ‘petition’ to get an independent candidate on the ballot.” 

Attorney General Responds To Lawsuit

There’s a ticking clock in this case, due to how close we are to the election. In Virginia, in-person voting starts on Sept. 18. That means all cities and counties need to have absentee and in-person ballots printed by then. Even before the lawsuit, some places like Virginia Beach questioned if they would have enough time to get ballots printed, so they’ve already shipped materials to the vendor. That means regardless of what happens this week, some places will have Kanye West’s name listed as a presidential candidate.  

As a state agency, Attorney General Mark Herring represents the Virginia Board of Elections here. In a response to the lawsuit, Herring said Virginia Beach and others that are already printing ballots felt that they had no choice, due to the time crunch. 

“Localities must print ballots in order to meet their obligations under the law,” Herring wrote in the brief. “If the localities pause their ballot printing efforts and wait to see whether or not West is disqualified and thus ineligible to appear on the ballot, they risk violating federal and state law enacted to protect the rights of military and overseas voters.” 

On Wednesday, Herring requested an emergency hearing. This case will go before Richmond Circuit Court Judge Joi Taylor at 2:30 p.m. Thursday. If the judge rules for West, then his name will stay on all ballots as a presidential candidate. Should the plantiffs win, then West’s name will be removed from all ballots that haven’t been printed yet. Cities and counties that already printed ballots will take a different step if West’s side loses. They’ll put notices out at polling places stating West is no longer a valid candidate. 

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