What Kanye West's candidacy says about Iowa's process and Iowa Republicans

When Iowans begin voting on October 5, they will see nine tickets for president and vice president at the top of the ballot.

The most controversial campaign may be that of Kanye West, widely seen as a stalking horse for President Donald Trump and a gravy train for Republican campaign consultants. He has been knocked off the ballot in some states but survived two objections to his candidacy in Iowa last week.

West’s inclusion reflects well on Iowa’s ballot access policies but poorly on the Republican operatives who got his name in front of voters.

The State Objection Panel, consisting of Secretary of State Paul Pate, Attorney General Tom Miller, and State Auditor Rob Sand, considered two challenges to West’s candidacy on August 31. The first questioned the validity of nineteen signatures on West’s petitions. The panel quickly dismissed it because even without counting those signatures, West had more than the 1,500 required under state law.

The second objection was similar to one that succeeded in Arizona last week. (The Arizona Supreme Court cited a different justification on September 8.) Brianne Pfannenstiel reported for the Des Moines Register,

Brad Schroeder, an attorney with the Hartung Schroeder law firm in Des Moines, argued that Chapter 43 of Iowa Code says candidates must list the political party with which they’re registered to vote. West is a registered Republican, but on his nomination petition he checked the box that says he is not affiliated with any organization.

Schroeder argued that all of West’s signatures were collected under false pretenses, as voters were not told the hip hop star was a registered Republican.

Representing the West campaign, attorney Nick Mauro pointed out that Chapter 43 relates to nominating candidates for primary elections. Code Chapter 45, which governs “nominations by petition” for the general election, does not require that a candidate’s party affiliation be listed. Rather, the affidavit of candidacy must include the “name of the political organization by which the candidate was nominated, if any.”

Since neither the GOP nor any other political organization nominated West, Mauro said, it would not have been accurate to list his affiliation as Republican on the petitions.

Pate agreed that West’s petitions were consistent with guidance the Iowa Secretary of State’s office provides to prospective candidates.

The two Democrats on the panel chose not to exercise their power for the benefit of Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Explaining his vote to dismiss the objection, Miller said,

People who have followed this panel know that the panel very much tries to err on side of allowing people to be on the ballot, for important policy and constitutional reasons, that we want people to be able to run and we want voters to be able to choose from a large group. So that’s been the spirit and sort of the impetus that we’ve operated under for a while.

Although Miller saw “good arguments on both sides here,” what tipped his view toward allowing West to appear on the ballot was that in Iowa Code 45.3 and 45.5, there’s no reference to a party affiliation.

Sand, who is also an attorney, agreed. “I can appreciate the nature of the objection, both in the legal sense and also in the ethical sense.” Like Miller, he drew a distinction between the requirements for primary and general elections. “I think our job here, our legal standard,” Sand added, is to resolve questions “in favor of ballot access.”

Some Democrats were upset by the panel’s decision. West isn’t a serious candidate, they said. His campaign is just a front to help Trump by drawing some young voters or African Americans away from Biden.

Iowa law doesn’t require that presidential candidates have honorable motives or a realistic chance of winning. Anyone who collects at least 1,500 valid signatures from Iowans residing in at least ten counties can appear on the ballot.

Look at the other tickets that qualified in Iowa. Even most political junkies couldn’t name more than a handful of these presidential contenders. Other than Trump and Biden, none have any more chance of winning than West does.

Donald Trump/Mike Pence (Republican)
Joe Biden/Kamala Harris (Democratic)
Roque Rocky De La Fuente/Darcy G. Richardson (Alliance Party)
Don Blankenship/William Alan Mohr (Constitution Party of Iowa)
Ricki Sue King/Dayna R. Chandler (Genealogy Know Your Family History–Bleeding Heartland covered this history-making ticket here)
Howie Hawkins/Angela Nicole Walker (Green Party)
Jo Jorgensen/Jeremy Cohen (Libertarian Party)
Brock Pierce/Karla Ballard (no party)
Kanye West/Michelle Tidbal (no party)

For those who had hoped Miller and Sand would seize the chance to dump West, my response is the same as to those who were disappointed that Steve King didn’t get disqualified in 2018. Progressives should not cheer the idea of using technicalities to knock political opponents off the ballot.

The State Auditor’s office released this statement from Sand on August 31.

I voted to dismiss the objections to Kanye’s candidacy because in my view of the law he had legally qualified for the ballot. While some people may think his candidacy is not a serious one and is for the sole purpose of hurting former Vice President Joe Biden’s chances in November, politics is not a part of this question. This was an official action, in my official office. The law rules and I’m glad the outcome was determined by law rather than partisanship.

While the State Objection Panel reached the right conclusion last week, that doesn’t redeem the Republican support for West.

As in every other state, GOP operatives with no intention of voting for the entertainer were running his petition drive.

The leader of the Iowa effort was Todd Henderson, who used to work in the Secretary of State’s office and previously worked on several of Pate’s political campaigns. All six Iowans whose names are listed as presidential electors for West are Republicans. So was the attorney who brought the campaign’s petitions to the Secretary of State’s office less than an hour before the filing deadline.

Pat Rynard watched West’s signature collection operation in action and wrote about it for Iowa Starting Line. When speaking to Trump supporters, collectors for West would admit the goal was to re-elect the president. They would lie to other voters.

“It depends on who I’m talking to. […] “…Yeah, those two Mexicans, they were ready to sign. Hey, ‘sign for a better president.’” […]

One Democratic activist who was approached by canvassers outside Merle Hay Mall today reported them saying that signing the form would make it harder for Trump to get elected.

Republicans who worry that their presidential nominee can’t compete with young voters or people of color could advocate for policies and rhetoric that would make GOP candidates more appealing to those groups.

Instead, these people spent their energy on ratfucking in the service of a president running for re-election on race-baiting and white grievance.

Everyone who engaged in this contemptible enterprise, whether motivated by money or partisanship, should reexamine their life choices.

Top image: Kanye West in the Oval Office on October 11, 2018. Cropped from an official White House photo of West’s meeting with the president.

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin

  • The problem: first past the post

    The only reason that Republicans can gain from putting West on the ballot for president is the “first past the post” election law: the one with the most votes wins this state, even if a majority voted for someone else.

    The remedy for this scam, and all other scams of this kind, is changing to an instant-runoff style of ballot, in which voters list their preferences in order. Then we can eliminate the weakest candidate(s) in the first round, transfer their ballots to the voters’ second choice, and continue until we have a one-on-one contest with a clear winner.

    Who could be against it? Only politicians who want to win elections without the support of the majority.

    • Ballot counting nightmare

      How would this work exactly? If Kanye came in last with a handful of votes in each county, how would the auditors find those ballots to see who was the second choice on that ballot? Since that would not be enough (likely) to put some other candidate over the 50% mark, the process would have to be repeated with another minor candidate whose votes would likewise be somewhere in the stacks and stacks of paper ballots. How would auditors find those ballots?

      • It just takes patience

        Jurisdictions that use instant runoff or other forms of preference voting (and have done for decades in some cases) don’t complain that vote counting is a “nightmare.” I haven’t watched such a count up close, myself, but it’s not hard to imagine.

        First you sort the ballots into piles according to the first choice. Then the candidate with the smallest pile is declared the (first) loser, and that pile is redistributed according to the second choice, and so on. For a statewide election, a physical count would have to be done at a centralized location. It would be labor-intensive, but not horrible.

        But a physical count doesn’t need to be done election night. Ballots could instead be scanned at the county level, and the data transmitted to some state office where the count gets done by software, obviously with appropriate security auditing. The physical ballots could then be transported to a centralized, secure location where a physical count could be performed to validate the result.