This November, it might be surprising to see rapper Kanye West’s name next to Donald Trump and Joe Biden on the ballot. The musician mounted a sudden run for president in July and petitioned to get his name listed on several states’ ballots. Currently, he’s only set to be printed on Oklahoma’s. GOP-connected lawyers have been assisting West with his paperwork, reportedly to help steer votes away from Joe Biden and strengthen Trump’s chances at reelection.
When he announced his bid in July, many people thought it was a joke. Is it? Well, it’s tough to tell, says Rosalind Helderman, political investigations reporter at the Washington Post.
She recalls one rally in South Carolina, where he appeared onstage in a bulletproof vest and spoke radically, then broke down in tears. She says it was part of a series of events that led to his wife, Kim Kardashian West, telling the public about his struggles with bipolar disorder and asking them for compassion and empathy.
“So there's not much of an actual West campaign, and yet we have seen these strange efforts to get him on the ballot in various states, most notably in Wisconsin and Ohio, key swing states,” says Helderman. “I set out to try to track some of these efforts, and I ultimately found signs of Republican strategist operatives, lawyers, activists, some of whom have publicly and recently supported Donald Trump.”
Helderman says she couldn’t get anyone close to West’s campaign to discuss this with her, but West himself exchanged texts with a Forbes reporter, saying that he was “walking for the presidency,” not “running for the presidency.” He’s also running as an independent candidate, and he calls his political party “the birthday party.”
“In the meantime, what we really see are these petition efforts to get him on the ballot, and those have all the hallmarks of being essentially run by Republican operatives,” she says.
So far, it looks like West won’t appear on Illinois ballots, while Ohio and Wisconsin still need to examine his petitions, Helderman says.
She notes that Wisconsin is where Democrats are most concerned because Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton there by less than 23,000 votes.
“Black voters in the Milwaukee area, and other Black voters are especially important. So there is this fear that the whole goal here is to give Black voters who do not want to support Donald Trump, but are maybe not crazy about Joe Biden, an alternative. And maybe they'll just vote for Kanye West. And if enough do that, in a very close election, it could swing things,” says Helderman.
However, there’s an active challenge to the petitions filed in Wisconsin, so voters will have to see whether West actually appears on the ballot, Helderman notes.
Some say the petitions are fraudulent, that maybe the same person penned multiple signatures.
“Wisconsin noted that there were various problems. … There was a Mickey Mouse [signature]. Yes, there was a Bernie Sanders. Yes, there was a Kanye West himself. Presumably those signatures will definitely be thrown out,” says Helderman. “They also argued that the form was actually filed 14 seconds late. So that's an issue that they're going to have to debate.”
She continues, “Maybe most disturbingly, one of the challenges included a whole series of sworn affidavits from people whose names appear on the petition, who … swore that they were lied to before signing that petition. They were never told it was intended to get Kanye West on the ballot.”
— Written by Amy Ta, produced by Rosalie Atkinson