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Kanye West off Arizona ballot, judge rules

FILE - This Nov. 17, 2019, file photo shows Kanye West on stage during a service at Lakewood Church in Houston. A law firm with ties to prominent Democrats has filed a lawsuit attempting to keep West off presidential ballots in Virginia. Attorneys for Perkins Coie filed a lawsuit in Richmond on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, on behalf of two people who say they were tricked into signing an “Elector Oath” backing West's candidacy. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke, File)

FILE – This Nov. 17, 2019, file photo shows Kanye West on stage during a service at Lakewood Church in Houston. A law firm with ties to prominent Democrats has filed a lawsuit attempting to keep West off presidential ballots in Virginia. Attorneys for Perkins Coie filed a lawsuit in Richmond on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, on behalf of two people who say they were tricked into signing an “Elector Oath” backing West’s candidacy. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke, File)

Kanye West can’t run for president, at least not in Arizona.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Scott McCoy rejected arguments Thursday by lawyers for the rapper that the rules governing who can and cannot run as an independent do not apply to him, at least in this case.

There is no question but that Arizona law clearly states that only people who are not registered with a recognized political party can seek status on the ballot as an independent. And McCoy said the record shows that West is registered as a Republican in Wyoming.

But attorney Timothy Berg said that doesn’t disqualify his client.

He argued that the Arizona law limiting who can run as an independent applies only to people registered with the Arizona Republican Party. Berg told McCoy that West’s political affiliation in Wyoming is legally irrelevant.

McCoy conceded that, strictly speaking, state law does not spell out what is meant by the statutes about party membership. But he was not buying what Berg was offering.

“The most sensible reading is that it prohibits Mr. West’s nomination,” the judge said. And McCoy said the same problem applies to West’s choice of Arizonans who would serve as his electors and whose names also would be on the ballot.

Thursday’s ruling may not be the last word. West still has a shot at an appeal.

But time is running out.

West already has submitted 57,982 petitions to the Secretary of State’s Office; only 39,039 need to be found valid to qualify. But officials in most of the state’s 15 counties say they need to send the ballots to the printer by Sept. 8.

There was no immediate response from Berg.

The issue is about much more than West.

No one seriously believes he has a chance of becoming the next president, if for no other reason than he is not on the ballot in many states and therefore cannot pick up their electoral votes.

There is the chance, however, that West, who in the past had been a highly visible ally of President Trump, could siphon off enough votes from Democrat Joe Biden to give the incumbent the edge he needs here — and the state’s 11 electoral votes — in what is widely seen as a battleground state.

West announced his candidacy under the Birthday Party banner in July, telling Forbes magazine he no longer supports Trump and that he was OK with the prospect of siphoning off Black votes which might otherwise go to Biden.

None of that was at issue in court on Thursday. Instead, what McCoy was considering was both the question of whether West was entitled to have his name on the ballot.

That’s the course Berg urged.

He said the public policy of Arizona is to ensure people have access to the ballot and does “not look kindly on incumbent major political parties eliminating their potential competitors.” Anyway, Berg said, if a higher court were to find West ineligible it would be no big deal to educate voters that he is ineligible and that votes for him would not count.

But attorney Joseph Roth, representing a challenger to West’s candidacy, said that’s not an answer.

“Arizona has an important interest in preventing voter confusion, ballot overcrowding and frivolous candidacy,” he told the judge. More to the point, he said, having an unqualified candidate on printed ballots “is a harm that cannot be undone” even if the votes cast for West do not count.

The judge sided with Roth, saying leaving West’s name on what voters will see when they go to the polls would create “a possibility of irreparable injury.”

McCoy’s ruling was not West’s only defeat on Thursday. A Virginia judge directed election officials there to keep his name off the ballot after concluding that oaths submitted by several of West’s would-be electors “were obtained by improper, fraudulent and/or misleading means.”

 

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