Electoral College Dropout
After stymieing Kanye West’s bid to run for president in New Jersey, Scott Salmon wonders, does anybody make real petitions anymore?
Published in 2021 New Jersey Super Lawyers magazine on March 23, 2021
Scott Salmon has no problem telling you this whole thing was born of his own “righteous indignation and incredulousness.” He couldn’t help it—Kanye West just brought out the employment and elections attorney’s inner New Jerseyan. Not to say Salmon doesn’t like West’s music. He bops to the deep cuts. But when West tried to get on New Jersey’s 2020 presidential ballot, the track skipped.
“At a certain point, it just became so ridiculous that it was insulting,” Salmon says. “New Jersey is obviously famous for historical corruption and whatever, but this wasn’t even good vote-stealing or signature fraud. Like, make an effort.”
Salmon was doing his morning reading in July when he came across an article about West filing in New Jersey.
“I didn’t know he was actually running, so I said, ‘Let’s see what they did.’” He shot an email off to the Division of Elections, and within minutes received a PDF of signatures. “It’s extraordinarily easy to get access to this stuff here,” Salmon says. “My first response when I opened the document was to laugh. Every ‘i’ on the page had the same strange little circle above it. I don’t know one person who writes an ‘i” that way, much less basically 10 in a row who all happen to live on the same floor of an apartment building.”
Salmon started to go through the petition line by line. “And it just got more absurd,” he says. He found other similar handwriting patterns, signatures without last names and incomplete addresses.
Salmon, who represented Councilman William McKoy in the Paterson voter fraud case stemming from this year’s Third Ward City Council election, noticed something else. “I know Paterson extremely well, and there are certain high-rises where if you’re going to steal ballots, that’s the place,” he says. “There were lots of names and addresses on there that I recognized.”
He got Jardim, Meisner & Susser’s OK to use firm letterhead, but filed independently.
It’s relatively easy to challenge a petition in New Jersey, Salmon says. “You make a list of the names you are challenging, and say, ‘I’m doing this for this reason,’” he says. “I figured, ‘What’s the worst that can happen? I lose one day of work. Whatever.’”
In addition to the shady signatures and addresses, Salmon also requested information on who collected the signatures, which is required but was not provided.
Politico New Jersey sniffed out Salmon’s challenge and posted an article. “Then shit hit the fan,” Salmon says. “This thing went viral. I spent the next day answering calls from far-off places. It was ridiculous.”
He filmed a segment for Inside Edition, too. “It was a brief interview, but they spliced my clips with clips of Kanye crying at one of his rallies,” Salmon says. “I mean, it wasn’t funny, but it was a little funny.”
After a few days with zero response from West’s campaign, Salmon and the Division of Elections got a response—the West campaign decided it was finished. “They withdrew their petition,” he says. “He did end up on ballots in other states, though, due to a more organized effort.”
So why go to all the trouble in a state where nobody expected West to end up on top?
“Because at least I could make a point that running for president is a serious thing,” Salmon says. “Even if you’re going to lose, and even if everyone knows that. Part of the problem with politics is that, at least in the last four years, we’ve begun to normalize treating the presidency like the joke that it’s become.”
While Salmon’s election work is cyclical, the Paterson case took up a nice chunk of his time in 2020.
“Some towns have a May municipal election, and Paterson is one of them,” Salmon says. “That became the big voter fraud case that President [Trump] tweeted about repeatedly. The individual who ‘won’ the race was later charged with six total crimes, including election fraud. The day before he was to be sworn in, I was able to get an injunction preventing it, which, as far as I can tell, is the first time it’s ever happened in New Jersey.”
A judge vacated the May election results and ordered a reelection that took place in November. “The guy that was charged won it by 13 votes,” Salmon says, “so we’re now back in court. Some ballots were rejected when they shouldn’t have been, and we found 31 voters who voted even though they don’t live in the district. It’s a never-ending story, and it’s so New Jersey.”
Salmon’s only regret from the Paterson ordeal? “I was really hoping [Trump] would tweet at me,” he says. “I was waiting for it.”