For all the attention given rapper Kanye West’s bid to get on the presidential ballot in Wisconsin this November, there is a technical question hanging over his candidacy:
Did West’s team file his nomination papers by Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline? Or did he miss it by a couple of crucial minutes?
And didn’t Kanye once drop an album called “Late Registration”?
Lane Ruhland, an attorney for President Donald Trump who was assisting West’s campaign, and an assistant arrived outside the state Elections Commission’s office in Madison right at 5 p.m. The two rushed past a reporter and cameraman and into the building.
One record of the incident, reviewed by the Journal Sentinel, had Ruhland’s assistant entering the building about 20 seconds after 5 p.m. The pair then had to go to the commission’s third-floor offices, using the building’s notoriously slow elevator, and get their petitions stamped by state officials.
From all appearances, it looks likes West’s team was a minute or two late. A WISN-TV (Channel 12) reporter at the scene tweeted that Ruhland entered the commission’s building “just after 5.”
Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Elections Commission, said Wednesday he did not know the exact time the billionaire rapper’s papers were officially filed with his agency.
“That’s a question the commissioners are going to have to answer,” Magney said, referring to the election panel’s six commissioners who will decide if West belongs on the ballot.
The timestamp on each of the first two pages is not entirely legible. (The stamp may actually refer to when West filed his declaration, which was earlier Tuesday.)
“WEC staff will provide the Commission members with a detailed timeline surrounding the filing of the nomination papers as part of its report on ballot access for a future meeting,” Magney said. “It will be up to the Commission to decide whether the deadline was met.”
That should be pretty straight-forward, right? Except the commission is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans.
As Ruhland’s involvement makes clear, Wisconsin Republicans have been eager to help West’s candidacy. Ruhland, who didn’t respond to calls or email, is currently representing the Trump campaign in a lawsuit against a Rhinelander TV station.
Of his 10 electors in Wisconsin, at least five had strong ties to the state Republican Party or are Trump activists.
“We welcome Kanye West and all other candidates who qualified for ballot access to the race,” state GOP spokeswoman Alesha Guenther said this week.
The New York Times has reported that Republicans around the country have been eager to give West’s campaign a helping hand. Democrats, by contrast, have been working hard to keep him off the ballot, especially in swing states like Wisconsin.
That’s because a West candidacy could siphon away votes from former Vice President Joe Biden, who has clinched the Democratic presidential nomination and will face Trump in November. One Wisconsin Republican source says the goal is for West to get 107,000 votes here, about what Libertarian Gary Johnson did in 2016.
Milwaukee’s top three African-American officials held a news conference Thursday to denounce the efforts to get West on the ballot, something they said was a cynical ploy by Trump officials to dupe Black voters.
“We are here to basically say that you cannot fool us,” Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said. “We see what is happening.”
Crowley noted that Trump won Wisconsin by merely 22,000 votes in 2016. If people are not paying attention, he said, a West candidacy could throw the election to Trump once again.
“Kanye West is supporting Trump,” Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson said in front of the Republican Party’s empty office on the city’s north side. “Do not be mistaken.”
Cavalier “Chevy” Johnson, Milwaukee’s Common Council president, suggested that officials should be prepared to go to court to keep West from running in Wisconsin. “I don’t think any option should be off the table,” Johnson said.
Should the dispute over West’s late registration ends up in litigation, three election lawyers said this week that the legal issue should be pretty straightforward. The 5 p.m. deadline for filing nomination papers, they said, doesn’t allow for any wiggle room.
“The Wisconsin Supreme Court has long held the deadline is ‘mandatory,’ and late filings cannot be allowed,” said Milwaukee lawyer Matthew O’Neill, an expert on campaign law.
In 1950, the state’s high court rejected nomination papers of a U.S. Senate candidate because they were submitted at 5:02 p.m., a couple of minutes past the deadline. The court wrote: “If the candidate or his representative fails, as here, to reach the office until later than the time specified, the tender comes too late.”
“As our Supreme Court has held, deadlines for filing nomination papers are mandatory,” said Michael Maistelman, an attorney who specializes in election law.
That doesn’t mean candidates haven’t tried to get around state election rules. Or that the matter might not end up in court, given the stakes in November’s presidential contest.
Earlier this year, two candidates for Milwaukee County executive tried to deal with an unrelated problem on their nomination papers by urging the courts to focus on “the will of the electorate.”
The courts rejected that argument. Both candidates were bounced from the ballot.
Mike Wittenwyler of the Madison firm of Godfrey & Kahn said he couldn’t see that argument working in the West case either.
“This is likely to get resolved in litigation,” Wittenwyler said. “But if you look at the case law, no later than 5 p.m. means you have to get your nomination papers in by 5 p.m.”
Despite its bipartisan composition, the commission itself has typically been a stickler for deadlines.
In June, the commissioners unanimously rejected a challenge to the nomination signatures for Democratic Sen. Lena Taylor of Milwaukee because the challenge was filed a couple of minutes after the deadline. The vote ensured Taylor is on the ballot this fall.
“There’s been a long tradition over many, many years and I know personally many candidates that for various reasons or challenges or whatever didn’t get it in on time,” Commissioner Robert Spindell, a Republican, said at the time.
“They went to the wrong location. They had a flat tire. They didn’t catch the elevator. They were two minutes late,” Spindell continued. “The situation with this type of problem is pretty clear in our past history, and I would suspect that two minutes is two minutes past the deadline.”
Patrick Marley of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed.
Contact Daniel Bice at (414) 313-6684 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielBice or on Facebook at fb.me/daniel.bice.