A Brown County judge late Friday rejected Kanye West’s bid to be added to Wisconsin’s presidential ballot, ruling his nomination papers were turned in after the 5 p.m. deadline on the day they were due.

West’s campaign tried to argue the signatures were turned in at 14 seconds past 5 p.m. and the state’s deadline of “not later than 5 p.m.” actually meant the cutoff was when the clock struck 5:01 p.m.

But Brown County Judge John Zakowski rejected the argument, agreeing with the finding of the state Elections Commission that candidates need to plan ahead to ensure they arrive on time to file their papers ahead of the deadline.

“The unfortunate fact is this dispute could have been avoided had the West representatives simply arrived earlier,” Zakowski wrote in his ruling.

Zakowski’s ruling comes as the state Supreme Court is weighing a lawsuit filed by the Green Party to have its presidential candidate Howie Hawkins placed on the presidential ballot. The state Supreme Court has ordered local clerks to cease sending absentee ballots to voters while it decides how to proceed in that case.

West’s attorneys didn’t immediately respond to an email late Friday seeking comment on the ruling.

The heart of West’s lawsuit was his argument over what “not later than 5 p.m.” means. While West’s attorneys argued the nomination papers were turned in 14 second past 5 p.m. and were thus filed on time, the Elections Commission rejected that argument in ruling 5-1 last month the signatures were turned in late.

Commission staff testified that West’s campaign didn’t enter the building housing the agency office until after 5 p.m. and didn’t enter the office until 5:01 p.m. What’s more, the commission found West’s campaign didn’t turn over the papers until several minutes after 5:01 p.m. because they weren’t properly numbered when his campaign arrived in the office.

In his decision, Zakowski listed several examples to back up the interpretation that the deadline is when the clock strikes 5 p.m. and not one second after. That includes Wisconsin law that prohibits the purchase of alcohol for carry out after 9 p.m. Zakowski noted his personal experience that some stores have a clock that counts down the hour, minute and second.

“In other words, any time after 9 o’clock means it is later than 9 o’clock and alcohol
cannot be purchased, even at 9:00:59,” Zakowski wrote.

West’s attorneys had argued the entertainer’s campaign faced impediments in filing the papers on time, including that the doors were locked to the privately-owned building that houses the agency. Zakowski said he was troubled that the doors were locked. Still, Zakowski noted the commission had ruled a staff member was waiting at the door before the deadline to open it for candidates seeking to file. Also, another candidate who arrived 30 minutes before the deadline was admitted to the building and had her papers processed.

Zakowski called the situation “unfortunate” because those “signing the nomination papers have the right to expect their candidate will be placed on the ballot” and the process should encourage more candidates “providing more options for the voters provided the candidates properly follow the laws pertaining to elections.”

Still, he pointed out the signatures were gathered in roughly two days even as candidates were afforded nearly two months to meet the requirements to be placed on the ballot.

“In effect, plaintiffs ‘dropped the ball’ by not ensuring they would be able to timely file the nomination papers,” he wrote.

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