The state Elections Commission voted Thursday to keep rapper Kanye West off Wisconsin’s presidential ballot in November — rebuffing supporters of President Donald Trump who have been pushing West’s spoiler campaign.
On a 5-1 vote, the bipartisan commission ruled that West’s team failed to file its nomination by the deadline of 5 p.m. Aug. 4. The panel is made up of three Republicans and three Democrats.
The commissioners rejected the argument made by West’s attorney that the rapper’s team actually had until 5:01 p.m. to file.
West is running on the Birthday Party ticket with vice presidential candidate Michelle Tidball.
“I regret it’s the case,” said Commissioner Dean Knudson, a former GOP state lawmaker appointed by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester. “I do not feel they filed timely.”
All three Democrats and two Republicans voted to keep West off the Wisconsin ballot.
Only Robert Spindell, a Milwaukee Republican, favored putting the rapper-turned-politician on the ballot. Spindell was appointed by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.
“Mr. (Kanye) West is an African American candidate,” Spindell said, “and I think we should do all we can to — after the terrible treatment that the Black population in Milwaukee received during the April election — that we given them a choice.”
West, who is hoping to get on the ballot in a handful of states, turned in more than 2,400 signatures on his nomination papers, more than the 2,000 minimum needed for an independent candidate to get on the ballot in Wisconsin.
Democrats are concerned that a West candidacy will siphon votes from former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat who will face Trump in November.
Wisconsin Republicans took an active part in trying to get West on the ballot. At least five of his 10 electors are Republican activists or Trump supporters. Also, Lane Ruhland, an attorney for the Trump campaign in a Wisconsin lawsuit, helped file the nomination papers for the West campaign.
One Wisconsin Republican source has said the goal is for West to get 107,000 votes, about what Libertarian Gary Johnson did in 2016. Trump won the state by a little more than 22,000 votes.
When West’s team turned in its nomination signatures, the Democrats filed a complaint saying West should be kept off the ballot for a variety of reasons but mostly because they contended his campaign was late with its signatures.
At Thursday’s hearing, Jeffrey Mandell, an attorney for the state Democratic Party, said all of the evidence suggested that West’s team filed the signatures late. He cited video from a reporter for WISN-TV (Channel 12), an elections staffer and a Democratic Party official.
Mandell said the West campaign could blame only itself for missing the state deadline.
“The papers were late,” Mandell said. “Under Wisconsin law, they cannot be allowed.”
West’s lawyer, Michael Curran, argued that the campaign actually had until 59 seconds after 5 p.m. to submit the nomination papers.
But Curran said it was not exactly clear when Ruhland and her assistant turned over the ballot petitions. He said it was the elections staff’s responsibility to reject the signatures that came in after the deadline. That, he noted, did not happen.
“They were accepted (by a state worker), and they can’t be accepted after the filing deadline,” Curran said.
Spindell was sympathetic to Curran’s argument, noting that the global pandemic has made many things more difficult. He said he believed West’s team would have clearly beaten the deadline under normal circumstances.
Spindell then attacked Democrats for filing the challenge to West’s papers. He noted that Democrats are also opposing the candidacy of a Green Party presidential candidate who is running with a Black activist and limited the number of polling places for people to vote in Milwaukee this spring.
“When are they going to quit suppressing the Black vote?” Spindell, a longtime GOP activist, said of Democrats. “What’s next in trying to suppress the Black choice?”
But Knudson, another Republican commissioner, was focused on the issue of whether West’s campaign filed by 5 p.m.
“It just seems to me that everything that starts with a 4 is before 5 o’clock, and 5 o’clock is the deadline,” said Knudson, a former Hudson mayor.
He asked if the elections staff who actually accepted the nomination papers could testify as to when exactly they received them.
Cody Davies, an employee with the state elections agency, said he met Ruhland at the front door of the building at 12 to 14 seconds after 5 p.m. Davies said he checked his watch again while he was riding in the elevator with Ruhland and her assistant and that it was about 10 seconds to 5:01 p.m.
Davies said he informed the pair that they were late and he needed to talk to a supervisor about what to do. He said he considered his watch “fairly accurate.”
A second staffer, Riley Willman, said it was his recollection that West’s campaign officials entered the Elections Commission office at 5:01 p.m. The two then needed to organize and number the pages of the papers.
As a result, Willman said, the elections staff did not get the documents until “several minutes after 5 p.m.”
“It’s not for us to determine how late the papers were,” said Commissioner Mark Thomsen, a Democrat. “We had unequivocal testimony that they got into the building after 5 o’clock.”
Voting to bar West from the Wisconsin ballot were Democrats Julie Glancey, Ann Jacobs and Thomsen and Republicans Marge Bostelmann and Knudson.
Contact Daniel Bice at (414) 224-2135 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DanielBice or on Facebook at fb.me/daniel.bice.