BOISE, Idaho — Rap star Kanye West can stay on Idaho's presidential ballot as an independent candidate, an Idaho 4th District judge ruled Wednesday, despite having been registered as a Republican in Wyoming at the time he certified to Idaho that he wasn't affiliated with any political party.
Idaho law requires "that the candidate 'must declare' that the candidate has 'no political party affiliation' … not that the candidate must actually have no political party affiliation," writes Judge Jason Scott in his 15-page decision, denying a request from the Idaho Democratic Party and two Idaho voters for a temporary restraining order against West appearing on Idaho's ballot.
If the court were to require proof, or require Secretary of State Lawerence Denney to verify the claim, “the Court impermissibly would require more than the statute does," Scott wrote. He cited a 2008 Idaho Supreme Court ruling regarding Rex Rammell's run for Senate as an independent to back up his ruling.
Denney said, “We’re relieved that we don’t have to go to the additional expense of printing new ballots or getting a whole crew together to black out a name.”
He noted, “We have to send out the uniform overseas ballots starting on Friday.”
West is one of seven candidates appearing on Idaho’s November presidential ballot, including two other independents plus the nominees of the Democratic, Republican, Constitution and Libertarian parties. He’s now qualified to appear on the ballot in just 12 states, which gives him no mathematical chance of being elected president.
The rapper and record producer, who’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, is a former Trump supporter who has made rambling statements about why he’s running for president, and has made just one campaign appearance, in South Carolina. In its lawsuit, the Idaho Democratic Party contended West’s candidacy will “dilute the voting power of Democratic voters.”
"KANYE 2020 is grateful that the Court saw through Democrats' brazenly transparent effort to deny ballot access to a qualified independent candidate," said a press release from the campaign sent to the Idaho Press on Thursday afternoon.
Gregg Keller, a longtime GOP political operative and former executive director of the American Conservative Union, sent out the press release and identified himself as "senior strategist" for West's presidential campaign.
Trump campaign backers have worked to help West qualify for the ballot in multiple states, according to national news reports on CNN, Forbes and Politico.
Lindsey Johnson, spokeswoman for the Idaho Democratic Party, said in a statement late Wednesday afternoon, "While we are disappointed by today’s outcome, we hope it brings to light the issue of Idaho’s legal system lacking appropriate avenues to remove ineligible candidates from the ballot, as Secretary of State Denney acknowledged Kanye West to be. We feel we did our job to protect our voters and candidates and hold the Secretary of State accountable and will continue to do so."
"In regards to an appeal, we are discussing the best path forward with our legal counsel at this time," she said.
Courts have blocked West from the ballot in several other states, some of them on challenges similar to the one filed in Idaho.
Boise Attorney Richard Stover of Eberle Berlin, arguing on behalf of West, told Scott during a hearing Tuesday, “My contention, your honor, is that the Legislature, this Legislature in the state of Idaho, has chosen not to micromanage every aspect of the … election process, but rather to trust the electorate to educate themselves.”
“There’s plenty of time for candidates to run around and accuse each other of lying,” Stover told the court.
Denney, a former speaker of the Idaho House, said of Idaho's state law, "I think there are reasons that it was written the way it was, so I'm not going to second-guess that."
Idaho is notorious for having an easy process to get on its ballot; back in 2008, a Texas prison inmate, Keith Russell Judd, appeared on the ballot for the state’s Democratic presidential primary simply by sending a $1,000 check from his prison account.
For the general election, candidates must either be the certified nominee of a recognized political party, or, when filing as an independent, submit at least 1,000 verified signatures of registered Idaho voters. West’s campaign submitted the 1,000 verified signatures, all gathered in Ada County between Aug. 17 and Aug. 24.
According to West’s latest campaign finance report filed with the Federal Election Commission, he’s largely self-funded his campaign, loaning it more than $6 million and spending much of that on consultants and ballot-access activities.
Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.
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