Two of the top GOP contenders for Michigan governor, Perry Johnson and James Craig, were barred from the ballot, along with three minor candidates, because they fell short of the required number of valid signatures on their nominating petitions. Thousands of their signatures were declared to be fraudulent by the Michigan Bureau of Elections, bringing these candidates below the 15,000-signature threshold necessary to compete in the primary.
The Michigan Board of State Canvassers, made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, deadlocked 2-2 Thursday on whether to bar Johnson, Craig and three others. The tie means these candidates will remain off the ballot; one already has dropped out.
Michigan Bureau of Elections staff released a report on the petitions that estimated that 36 individuals who gathered signatures "submitted fraudulent petition sheets consisting entirely of invalid signatures." They turned in "at least 68,000 invalid signatures submitted across 10 sets of nominating petitions."
The BOE staff determined that the sheets had invalid signatures because the petitions contained the names of voters who weren't registered in the correct jurisdiction or had valid voters with forged signatures. Staffers who reviewed the petitions also found that "a number" of the voter registrations for those alleged to have signed petitions were not valid because the individuals had either died or moved from the jurisdiction.
Further, the staff noted, "None of the reviewed signatures appearing on these petition sheets had redeeming qualities demonstrating a match when compared with the signature on file."
The staff said that while it's typical for petitions to include scattered instances of dubious signatures, "the Bureau is unaware of another election cycle" with such a "substantial volume" of fraudulent signatures involving multiple candidates.
The bureau said Craig submitted 10,192 valid signatures — well short of the 15,000 needed. It tossed 11,113 signatures, including 9,879 that were allegedly fraudulently collected by 18 paid circulators.
Accrording to the staff, Johnson turned in 13,800 valid signatures. They threw out 9,393, including 6,983 that they said are fraudulent and were gathered by many of the same people who also forged signatures that Craig submitted.
Johnson, a business owner, filed a lawsuit Friday to try to get on Michigan's August primary ballot, the first of many likely legal challenges from the barred candidates. He asked the state Court of Appeals to intervene and order the Board of State Canvassers to put him on the ballot. Craig, a former Detroit police chief with significant name recognition, also plans to go to the courts.
Johnson's legal team said the state improperly struck entire sheets, foreclosing the possibility that signatures of some voters were valid, and should instead have inspected each petition line by line.
"They failed to carry their burden of establishing the invalidity of enough of Mr. Johnson's signatures by clear, competent and convincing evidence," the lawsuit states.
Craig, in a press release, echoed Johnson's argument objecting to the rejection of entire pages of signatures and also slammed the Board of Elections for not informing the campaigns about its suspicion of fraud in the petitions until two days before its public hearing.
There seems to be no dispute that fraudulent signatures were on the petitions, though there's no evidence that the candidates were aware of it.
The winner of the Aug. 2 primary will face Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November.
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