Kanye West is a rap superstar, record producer and fashion designer commanding a business empire with his wife, Kim Kardashian West, worth millions of dollars. On July 4, 2020, he announced on Twitter that he would expand his horizons by running for the office of President of the United States. While there were questions about how serious his prospects were, he did manage to get himself on the November ballot in Colorado, Oklahoma and Vermont. However, he was unable to make the ballot in Michigan. Was there a reason he was excluded? Is there a political motive?
The simple answer is that he missed the statutory deadline to appear on the ballot. Since Kanye West was not nominated by a major political party, he would be running as an independent candidate. In this situation, the following rules apply:
- “A qualifying petition for an office elected at the general November election shall be filed not later than 4 p.m. of the one hundred-tenth (110) day before the general election.” MCL 168.590c(2). For the 2020 presidential election, the deadline was July 16, 2020.
- “As part of the minimum number of required signatures…, a qualifying petition for the office of president of the United States, United States senator, governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state board of education, board of regents of the university of Michigan, board of trustees of Michigan state university, board of governors of Wayne state university, or justice of the supreme court shall be signed by at least 100 registered electors in each of at least 1/2 of the congressional districts of the state.” MCL 168.590b(4).
- “The number of signatures of qualified and registered electors necessary for nominating petitions under this act, based upon the population of the district involved according to the most recent federal census, is as follows: Over 5 million (statewide) – minimum of 30,000 but maximum of 60,000.” MCL 168.544f.
- “Not later than 66 days before the general November election, a candidate without political party affiliation for the office of president of the United States shall file with the secretary of state the names and addresses of persons chosen to be presidential electors and the name of the person who shall appear on the ballot as candidate for vice-president…”. MCL 168.590d(2). The presidential electors would be the slate that would be pledged to go to the Electoral College to vote for Mr. West should he win the State of Michigan.
Although state statute requires 30,000 signatures on a nominating petition, a federal judge reduced that number to 12,000 signatures. In Graveline v. Benson, Case No. 18-12354 (E.D. Mich. Dec. 22, 2019), the plaintiff attempted to get on the November 2018 general election ballot as an independent, non-partisan candidate for attorney general but failed to collect all the signatures necessary before the filing deadline. He filed suit in federal court alleging that the election law statutes regarding qualifying petitions operate “to deprive them of their rights to freedom of speech and association, equal protection, and due process under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.” The U.S. District Court agreed and found that the State of Michigan has not advanced any compelling reason why the signature threshold requirement should be 30,000 (much higher than most states) and has not shown why this law is narrowly drawn to advance its interest. The requirement to get 30,000 total with at least 100 in at least half of the congressional districts is a cumbersome and nearly impossible task for an independent candidate not supported by a party apparatus. As a result, a preliminary injunction was granted against the 30,000 signature requirement for the 2020 election and the new court-ordered threshold of 12,000 signatures remains in effect until the Michigan Legislature passes an adequate law to invalidate the enjoined scheme.
Kanye West missed the deadline to appear on the ballot, but he can still continue his presidential campaign as a write-in candidate. A write-in candidate is an individual whose name is not listed on the official voting form but seeks office by asking voters to cast a vote by write his or her name on the ballot by hand. Election officials cannot count a write-in vote for a person in a general election unless that person has filed a declaration of intent to be a write-in candidate with the Michigan Secretary of State. This declaration of intent must be filed ON OR BEFORE 4 p.m. on the second Friday immediately before the election. MCL 168.737a(1). The deadline for the 2020 presidential election to file the declaration of intent is October 23rd, 2020 at 4:00 p.m.
Our election system seems trapped in the two-party model, but independents are getting increasing access to the ballot as more voters become disillusioned by the polarized nature of politics. If you have any questions about Michigan election law or need legal representation, do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC for assistance today.