A Richmond judge ruled Thursday that state elections officials should bar rapper and entrepreneur Kanye West from Virginia’s presidential ballot.
Circuit Judge Joi Taylor found that 11 of the elector oaths West submitted “were obtained by improper, fraudulent or misleading means” or are otherwise invalid because of notary violations and misconduct.
The judge ordered state elections officials to prohibit anyone from printing West’s name on state ballots for the Nov. 3 election, finding that the notice of qualification the Department of Elections issued for West on Aug. 28 “is contrary to Virginia law, and is therefore, invalid.”
In localities where ballots already have been printed, the judge directed state elections officials “to provide notice to voters of Kanye West’s disqualification.”
West, a former backer of President Donald Trump, has denied that he was a GOP plant meant to divert votes from Joe Biden. West, an independent candidate running on the “Birthday Party” ticket, has made the ballot in several states, but elections officials in the key swing states of Wisconsin and Ohio have barred him from the ballot due to missed deadlines and paperwork problems.
The Richmond judge held an expedited hearing Thursday afternoon due to the Sept. 19 deadline for localities to mail absentee ballots.
Democratic lawyers filed suit against Virginia elections officials this week on behalf of two registered voters from Suffolk, Matthan Wilson and Bryan Wright. The plaintiffs say they were led to sign up as electors for West under false pretenses and that they do not plan to vote for West or support his candidacy. A presidential candidate must have pledged electors who would cast electoral votes on his or her behalf.
Justin Sheldon, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in court Thursday that “to allow him to get on the ballot by fraud would create a blueprint for others to use.”
Christopher K. Kowalczuk, a lawyer for West’s campaign, asked the judge to delay the proceedings for a few days in order to give the campaign more time to respond and to permit West to appear in court in person if he chose.
The lawyer also suggested that removing an African American candidate from the presidential ballot would not be the right look in a year that has spotlighted “disparate treatment of a segment of our society.”
Heather Hays Lockerman, Virginia’s senior assistant attorney general, asked the judge to rule on Thursday because local elections officials face a time crunch and an unprecedented demand for absentee ballots amid COVID-19. She noted that as of this week, 656,000 Virginians already have requested absentee ballots.
Wilson, one of the plaintiffs, testified Thursday via Zoom. He said he was riding his bike on Aug. 11 when three people flagged him down and asked him to sign up to be in a pool of state electors.
Wilson testified that no one mentioned West and that he had no intention to sign up as an elector for West.
Under questioning by West’s lawyer, Wilson said he should have more carefully read the document he signed, which referred to an independent third-party candidate.
As Thursday’s hearing began, the judge denied a motion by the lawyer for West’s campaign, who asked for a delay in the proceedings of a day or two.
The judge said, “We’re inside of a window where it is imperative for registrars to get the ballots printed.”
The judge did not take up a motion by Kowalczuk, the lawyer for West’s campaign, asserting that Attorney General Mark Herring should recuse himself from the case.
The motion, filed earlier Thursday, charged that “despite his constitutional and statutory obligations to the contrary,” Herring, a Democrat, had “made statements that he is siding with the plaintiffs,” thereby abrogating his legal obligation to defend state elections officials who had certified West for the ballot.
Herring had filed a response to the suit Wednesday in which he said Virginia “does not tolerate any type of election fraud,” that “serious allegations” had been raised about how West’s campaign signed up electors and that if the court decided West should be disqualified, his office would work with elections officials to make it happen.
On Thursday Herring’s office called the West campaign’s charges “baseless.”