Kanye West, a Republican, can’t run as an independent for president in Arizona

By: - September 3, 2020 4:43 pm

Rapper Kanye West speaks during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval office of the White House on Oct. 11, 2018. Photo by Oliver Contreras/Pool photo | Getty Images

A judge Thursday blocked rapper Kanye West from appearing as an independent presidential candidate on Arizona ballots because he’s a registered Republican in Wyoming.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge M. Scott McCoy issued the ruling Thursday afternoon, less than two hours after an emergency hearing in a special action filed last week in a bid to keep West from playing a spoiler on the November ballot.

McCoy wrote in his ruling that West was unlikely to win his argument that Arizona’s laws governing how independent candidates qualify for the ballot didn’t bar him from running, despite his registration as a Republican, because he wasn’t registered as a Republican in Arizona. The judge said the “most sensible” reading of the law was that it bars Republicans and Democrats from seeking office as an independent, even if they are registered in other states.

During the hearing, attorney Joshua Bendor argued that West’s interpretation of the law — which explicitly prohibits members of major political parties from running as independent candidates — would lead to the “absurd result” of allowing anyone to launch a campaign as an independent.

The reality, he said, is that ballots declare candidates are merely “Republican” or “Democrat,” not “Arizona Republican.”

“A Republican candidate for president does not run under the banner of 50 different state parties. They run under the banner of the national Repbulican Party,” Bendor said. “It’s for independents, and that’s not who he is, so he can’t use it to get on the ballot.”

McCoy also said the registration status of West’s 11 presidential electors is “problematic” under the law. Ten of them were registered as Republicans when they agreed to be electors, though they had all re-registered as independents on Wednesday, several days after the lawsuit was filed challenging their eligibility.

In his ruling, McCoy said there would be “irreparable harm” done to voters if West’s name appears on the ballot. Many counties — including Maricopa and Pima, home to about 70% of Arizona voters — must print ballots by Sept. 8. 

The judge rejected arguments from West’s attorney, Timothy Berg, that any harm done to West by keeping him off the ballot outweighed the harm done to Arizona voters if they were sent ballots with an ineligible candidate on them. Instead, McCoy sided with the plaintiffs, who said the court should prevent voter confusion. 

“Once the printing deadline is hit, there’s no going back,” plaintiff’s attorney Joseph Roth said in the hearing.

Roth also noted that West has no way to actually become president, even if he is allowed on the Arizona ballot, having missed the deadline or having been denied access to the ballot in 34 states and Washington, D.C.

“The harm is being on the ballot. In case after case, courts have affirmed ballot access restrictions… in part because of just this kind of late-stage chaos,” Roth said.

West on Wednesday filed nearly 58,000 petition signatures to qualify for the ballot — and the campaign said it would submit some 30,000 more by the Friday deadline — far more than the 39,000 he needed.

Republican operatives have aided West’s presidential West’s campaign, including in Arizona, where he began collecting signatures two weeks ago. Democrats have accused Republicans of assisting West, formerly a high-profile supporter of President Donald Trump, in an attempt to siphon votes from Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

It’s unclear who is funding West’s campaign efforts across the country, which has ostensibly spent millions of dollars to qualify for state ballots — both for signatures and on litigation. In Arizona, West’s campaign was reportedly paying $8 per signature. If that figure is correct, more than $460,000 was spent to get the rapper on the presidential ballot.

West is expected to appeal the ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.