vision 2020

Kanye West’s Presidential Campaign Is Both Proceeding and Unraveling

Kanye West’s political career is still off to a rocky start. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The last 48 hours have presented a series of new challenges for Kanye West’s haphazard campaign for president.

In a span of two days, West was booted from the ballot in five states: Illinois, Montana, Ohio, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. In Illinois, Montana, and West Virginia, it was because he filed an insufficient number of valid signatures. In Wisconsin, it was because West did not file on time. In Ohio, the information and signature on West’s nominating petition and his statement of candidacy did not match those on petitions circulated to be signed.

West has filed in several other states in this week: Louisiana, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Virginia, but it is unclear if he will ultimately qualify to appear on the ballot in all of them.

West may face particular issues in Virginia, where seven of the 13 electors that West submitted told Intelligencer they 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.

“Is this a joke?” one of the electors, Ilisa Stillman, asked when reached by Intelligencer. “Holy guacamole,” she replied when informed it was not. “I’m certainly not supporting Kanye West,” she made clear before ending the conversation.

Another elector, Sariah Cutler, said that someone approached her at the mall for what she was told was “a petition just to put somebody’s name on the ballot.” She went on to ask, “Is there any way I can take my name off?”

“There was no mention of Kanye West,” explained Matthan Wilson, who said he was walking in downtown Norfolk when he was asked to sign for a third-party candidate to be on the ballot. He sounded stunned when told what he had signed up for. “Ain’t no way in the world,” Wilson responded, adding that if he had known that he was being approached on the rapper’s behalf, “I would have walked away.”

Courtney Brown was more philosophical when she discovered that she was an elector for Kanye West. “We shouldn’t do things in a rush,” she posited. “I didn’t even know it was for him.”

Brown said she had been approached outside a Food Lion in Charlottesville, and suggested that, moving forward, those with the West campaign “need to explain better” what they are asking for. “I have a very vivid memory, I don’t remember hearing his name,” she added. “I’m not a big fan but I know who he is.”

Others were more aware of what they were signing.

Ashia McCrary knew that she was signing up to be an elector, but she did not know she was signing up to be an elector for Kanye West. “I thought it was just for Jo Jorgensen [the Libertarian nominee for president] or someone like that.” She said she was walking her dog when “these people came up and said, ‘Would you like to be an elector?’” She made it clear that Kanye West’s name was not mentioned to her and that she would not have been interested if it had.

Sherrell Hunter-Moore of Falls Church said she was a fan of the rapper and that she got referred to the campaign “by this guy — I forgot his name.” Another elector submitted by West’s team, Bryan Wright, said that he had gotten connected to the campaign by “folks asking me to sign petitions” outside his parking garage. Wright made clear that “I don’t support Biden at all” and that he thought that President Trump “was doing a fantastic job and if he’s reelected we’ll be in great shape.” However, the new West elector insisted that he was still “on the fence” about whom he would support in November. “I’m supporting the best candidate,” he said.

Invariably, the electors had been approached during the petition-gathering effort in Virginia. The state requires at least 200 valid signatures from each of its 11 congressional districts and a total of at least 2,500 valid signatures statewide.

The Virginia strategy marked a change in approach from the campaign’s earlier efforts at finding electors — the people who would, were the candidate to win the state, vote for them in the Electoral College. Early in West’s campaign, the rapper personally selected people to appear on his behalf as electors. The consultation process as he handpicked people reportedly delayed operations in several states and served as further impediment to the campaign’s already-rushed signature-gathering efforts.

More recently, West’s elector slates have been jam-packed with Republican operatives and activists. In Vermont, Chuck Wilton, a GOP delegate to next week’s 2020 Republican National Convention, was selected as a West elector. The rapper’s elector slates in both Wisconsin and Colorado had a number of Republican activists, as well. In the latter state, Vice News reported that a Republican operative, Rachel George, had sent an email recruiting electors for West in advance of the filing deadline.

Indeed, a number of Republican operatives have been involved in West’s campaign. Gregg Keller, the former executive director of the American Conservative Union, appeared as the campaign’s point of contact when the rapper filed in Arkansas and, in Wisconsin, Lane Ruhland, a lawyer representing the Trump campaign in court, filed on West’s behalf. In Louisiana, West’s forms and elector slate were notarized by Bryan Jeansonne, a prominent Republican activist and member of the Louisiana Republican Party’s central committee. (His law firm, Doré Jeansonne, was co-founded with Jason Dore, a longtime GOP operative who is currently the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party.)

West’s campaign did have a bipartisan flourish in Tennessee, however: His slate of electors there included not only a 2016 delegate to the Republican National Convention, but two two scions of a Democratic Party political dynasty, Sir Isaac Ford and Newton Ford. They are the sons of former congressman Harold Ford Sr. and the brothers of former congressman Harold Ford Jr. The Ford family has long been a power broker in Memphis Democratic politics, although their influence has waned in recent years.

Aside from his ballot woes, West also missed Thursday’s midnight deadline for him to file a report with the Federal Election Commission. The rapper was required to do so if he was intending to spend at least $100,000 in the course of his campaign. Considering West has mounted paid signature-gathering efforts in over a dozen states, held a campaign rally in South Carolina, and paid multiple state-filing fees — including $35,000 in Oklahoma alone — it’s almost certain he has exceeded that.

The West campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

So far, Kanye West is officially on the ballot in four states: Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Vermont — and almost certain to appear in several others including Louisiana and Utah. Despite the ongoing hiccups, his campaign is moving forward with efforts to appear on the ballot in the swing state of Arizona as well as the deep red states of Idaho, Kentucky, and Wyoming.

Although there has been strong speculation that West is a plant being used by Republicans in an attempt to steal Black voters away from Joe Biden this fall, the rapper’s motivation is certainly more complicated than that. Meanwhile, public polling data shows West being unpopular among all demographic, but particularly among those with an unfavorable opinion of Trump. And West’s candidacy may not benefit the president at all: A private poll fielded by West’s campaign early in the process, which was described as being commissioned by those close to West who did not want him to run, saw the rapper getting around one percent of the vote nationally and hurting Trump more than he hurt Biden.

This post has been updated to include additional reporting.

Kanye West’s Campaign Is Both Proceeding and Unraveling