Correction: This article has been updated to correct Eric Doster’s position.
Singer and rapper Kid Rock’s greatest advantage if he runs for the U.S. Senate would be his name recognition, but legal experts say he would appear on the Michigan ballot under his legal name, Robert James Ritchie.
Under Michigan law, candidates may not use a nickname on the ballot that isn’t a recognized diminutive, that is, a shortened version, of their legal name.
Candidates may use a common-law name if they can document that it’s been used in the everyday conduct of personal, business or legal activities for at least six months, according to guidelines set by the Michigan Secretary of State’s office.
An example would be “C.J.” instead of Christopher John, or “Liz” instead of Elizabeth, according to the state guidelines, which are also used to determine what name someone may specify on their Michigan driver’s license.
“Under that interpretation, unless his name is legally changed, then his stage name wouldn’t qualify to be used on the ballot,” said Gary Gordon, a prominent elections attorney at the firm Dykema Gossett in Lansing.
“The law is very clear,” said Mark Brewer, a campaign attorney in Southfield and former Michigan Democratic Party chairman.
“He could try to campaign as Kid Rock, but voters are not going to see his name on the ballot.”
Eric Doster, an Okemos attorney who served 25 years as general counsel for the Michigan Republican Party, had a similar analysis.
“If you’re Robert, you can go by Bob or Bobby or Robbie, or something like that. He can go by Robert Ritchie. But I don’t see any way he goes by Kid Rock, barring a name change,” Doster said.
“Does it matter, though?”
Doster argues that, in a Republican primary, voters could figure out which candidate is Kid Rock by process of elimination, or that voters would recognize the 46-year-old musician by his legal name.
“People will come to know his real name. I don’t know if it’s that much of an issue,” Doster said. “Like Eminem. He’s a Michigan guy, and everyone knows his name is ... Mathers.”
David Dulio, who chairs the political science department at Oakland University, said not everyone knows who Robert Ritchie is, but some do. That number grows with each news story about Ritchie as he teases a run for office.
“With his celebrity status, especially in his home state, he can more easily build that name recognition than maybe another challenger candidate could — certainly easier than someone who is brand new to politics,” Dulio said.
Notably, the declared candidates in the GOP primary are political newcomers — Bloomfield Hills businesswoman Lena Epstein, retired Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bob Young Jr. of Laingsburg, and Iraq war veteran John James of Farmington Hills.
A July poll by Target-Insyght, which used Kid Rock’s stage name, found him leading the field of potential Republican candidates and trailing Democratic incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow by 8 percentage points in a hypothetical general election match-up.
The statewide poll of 822 likely Michigan voters had a margin of error of plus-minus 3.5 percentage points, while the smaller survey of 344 likely Republican voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.35 percentage points. The poll was financed in part by the Michigan Information & Research Service subscription news service.
The authority on ballot names is the Michigan Secretary of State’s Bureau of Elections, which couldn’t yet provide a definitive answer on Kid Rock’s ballot name.
“If Ritchie were to submit enough valid signatures to make the ballot, and he indicated that he wanted to be listed as ‘Kid Rock’ in some way on the ballot, Bureau of Elections staff would have to research the question of whether that name would be allowed further,” spokesman Fred Woodhams said.
Ritchie says he’s still deciding whether to launch an official campaign, but is using his professional name to sell “Kid Rock for US Senate” yard signs, hats and T-shirts on his website.
The Romeo native uses his legal name in other situations. Friends call him “Bobby.” He is registered to vote in Clarkston as Ritchie, which he also used on various applications for U.S. trademarks.
If Ritchie actually decides to run, his campaign would have to decide early on which name to use on nominating petitions, campaign materials and in legal filings with state and federal officials.
A representative of Ritchie did not respond to requests for comment.
Political observers say the ballot issue might end up before a judge. Opponents will want him on the ballot as Ritchie. Supporters might argue the ballot should identify him as he is known publicly, Kid Rock.
Dulio posed a scenario in which a voter doesn’t recognize the name Ritchie and uses the write-in box to vote for “Kid Rock” instead. Would that vote then count for Ritchie?
“It’s potentially a mess,” Dulio said. “Which is why, pending a Secretary of State decision, it’s likely to end up in court.”