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Judge Kicks Kanye Off Virginia Ballots

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Voters won't find rapper Kayne West's name on the ballot in November, following a federal judge's ruling Thursday. West was vying to get support as an independent candidate for president. (Photo: VPM News)

It took a Richmond federal judge roughly thirty minutes to issue a ruling Thursday that will keep rapper Kanye West off Virginia’s ballot as an independent candidate for president. 

At least three Virginia voters say they were misled by the rapper’s campaign; two sued the state Board of Elections. 

The ruling by Richmond Circuit Court Judge Joi Taylor states that 11 out of the 13 people listed on electors in documents were obtained by the campaign through “improper, fraudulent, and/or misleading means” or were “otherwise invalid because of notarial violations.” 

Matthan Wilson, a social studies teacher from Newport News, testified in court that he had no idea he had signed up as an elector for West until he got a phone call from a reporter. He thought he’d been entered into a pool to serve as a presidential elector, he said via Zoom.

“I didn’t read it as thoroughly as I should have,” Wilson said.

Two other electors submitted affidavits saying they were also unaware that they’d signed up for the role. 

An attorney representing Wilson and the case’s other plaintiff, Bryan Wright, also pointed to irregularities with the way some of the elector oaths were notarized. One form was notarized by a person whose license expired in 2018; seven more were notarized by someone who was also serving as an elector, in an apparent violation of state code.

Christopher Kowalczuk, the attorney representing West’s presidential campaign, called the allegations “very serious” and said they therefore merited more careful deliberation.

But with state ballots hitting the printing press, Taylor disagreed and ordered West’s name off Virginia’s ballots. 

The rapper’s longshot presidential campaign is ensnared in lawsuits in a number of other states, including Arizona, Wisconsin, and Ohio.

Kowalczuk, a white defense attorney who was described in a 2003 Roanoke Times profile as a “hard-core Republican,” invoked West’s race at least three times to the Black judge, urging her to tread lightly in striking an African American candidate from the ballot.

“If this summer has taught us anything, we need to look at how the disparate treatment of one segment of society affects all aspects of our lives,” Kowalczuk said.

In a statement released prior to the hearing Thursday, Kowalczuk also requested that Attorney General Mark Herring step back from the case. 

“Given Herring’s public statements indicating that he will side with his party’s efforts, and against the voters of Virginia, to deny Mr. West ballot access, he should immediately recuse himself from this case,” he wrote. “This effort to limit voters’ choices in their presidential candidates is an anathema to the Republic and the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Herring called the allegations of fraud "concerning" on Thursday and urged a swift decision.

Absentee voting in Virginia begins September 18. 

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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