Wisconsin Democrats have challenged billionaire rapper Kanye West’s attempt to get on the US presidential ballot in the critical swing state.
There is mathematically no way for Mr West to win the presidency, but Democrats fear he could play spoiler in November’s election by siphoning votes from Joe Biden and throwing the Midwestern state’s 10 electoral votes to President Donald Trump.
The state Democratic party alleges the musician’s nominating paperwork was filed after the deadline passed and that several petition circulators misled people about what they were signing.
The pages of signatures included the names Bernie Sanders and Kanye West (twice), both listed as Milwaukee residents, as well as perennial political favourite Mickey Mouse.
Mr West is running as an independent — his affiliation is listed as the Birthday party — but media reports this week tied his campaign to Republican operatives in Vermont, Arkansas and Wisconsin.
In Wisconsin, his nominating petition is represented by election lawyer Lane Ruhland, who was general counsel for the state’s Republican party and who is also representing Mr Trump’s campaign in a lawsuit against a Wisconsin television station. One of Mr West’s electors, James Smith of Stoddard, Wisconsin, is a Republican who ran in a Democratic primary nine years ago. Ms Ruhland did not respond to a request for comment.
“There can be little doubt this is a ploy to try to divert votes from the Democratic nominee in what [Republicans] expect to be a close election,” said Diane Welsh, an election lawyer in Wisconsin who represents progressive Democratic candidates.
The Wisconsin Republican party did not return a message seeking comment.
Mr West has supported Mr Trump in the past and worn his iconic red Make America Great Again baseball cap. He announced his bid for the presidency on July 4 with a tweet. At his first campaign appearance on July 19 in South Carolina he wore a bulletproof vest and cried while discussing his parents and abortion. He also said Harriet Tubman, a 19th-century American who escaped slavery and helped others do the same, “never actually freed the slaves. She just had the slaves go work for other white people.”
His wife, the reality television star Kim Kardashian West, released a statement three days later noting that Mr West has bipolar disorder and that “his words sometimes do not align with his intentions”. She asked the media and public for “compassion and empathy . . . so we can get through this”.
Trump vs Biden: who is leading the 2020 election polls?
Use the FT’s interactive calculator to see which states matter most in winning the presidency
Mr West’s path to the presidency was officially blocked earlier on Friday when a hearing officer for the Illinois State Board of Elections ruled that his nominating paperwork only had 1,200 valid signatures. The state required 2,500 — lowered from the usual 25,000 because of the pandemic.
Earlier this week the West campaign withdrew its attempt to get on the ballot in New Jersey after its nominating petition was challenged.
The ballot access deadline has passed in 21 states and Washington, DC, which together hold 246 electoral votes. With his withdrawal from New Jersey, which has 14 votes, and eventual removal from Illinois, which has 20, there is no path for Mr West to reach the required 270 votes for a majority in the Electoral College, even if he won every state where he does appear on the ballot.
Wisconsin requires 2,000 valid signatures and the names of 10 electors for an independent’s name to be added to the ballot. Mr West’s campaign turned in 422 pages with space for 10 names per page, but many were crossed or scribbled out.
The complaint cited at least 193 signatures that needed to be thrown out because they were illegible, or the names were fake, or they lacked a date or municipality. It also alleged whole pages should be jettisoned because the signature collector misrepresented the nature of the petition.