By SARA BURNETT – Associated Press
Two leading GOP contenders for the Michigan gubernatorial nomination could be declared ineligible for the primary ballot on Thursday, after the state’s Elections Office said they had not filed enough valid petition signatures to qualify for the August competition.
In a recommendation that immediately rocked the gubernatorial race, council staff said Monday that former Detroit Police Chief James Craig and businessman Perry Johnson, along with three other lesser-known candidates, should be declared ineligible. A bipartisan, four-person board of state solicitors will vote on the recommendations Thursday, though nominees who don’t vote can challenge the decision in court.
The candidates were among a group of 10 vying to take on Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer for control of the battleground state in November.
Democrats have challenged GOP candidates’ petitions, alleging mass tampering and other issues. Another Republican candidate, Tudor Dixon, had also disputed Craig’s voter signatures as fake. The office, however, said it discovered the fraud during its own review and did not address challenges filed by the Michigan Democratic Party and Dixon.
People also read…
Craig was leading in most Republican primary polls, while Johnson has already spent millions of his personal fortune on the contest. Bureau staff also determined that three other lesser-known GOP candidates — Donna Brandenburg, Michael Brown and Michael Markey — had failed to turn in enough valid signatures. Brown pulled out of the race on Tuesday.
Gubernatorial candidates had to submit the valid signatures of 15,000 voters registered to vote. In a report released late Monday, office staff said several petition sheets for various candidates “displayed suspicious patterns indicating fraud.” Some of the petitions for Craig’s campaign, for example, had signatures that all appeared to be written in the same handwriting.
Staff said that while it’s typical for petitions to include scattered examples of questionable signatures, “the Bureau is not aware of another election cycle” with such a “substantial volume” of fraudulent signatures, involving several candidates. They identified 36 petition distributors – or people who collect signatures and are often paid per signature – who submitted petition sheets consisting entirely of invalid signatures. They collected signatures for 10 candidates, some of whom were seeking judgeships, the office reported.
The office said Craig had submitted 10,192 valid signatures – well below the 15,000 needed. He discarded 11,113 signatures, including 9,879 that were allegedly collected fraudulently by 18 paid circulators.
Staff said Johnson had delivered 13,800 valid signatures. They threw away 9,393, including 6,983 that they claim are fraudulent and were gathered by many of the same people who also forged the signatures that Craig submitted.
Johnson’s campaign slammed the recommendations from the office, which is part of Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office, saying they had no right to launch signatures collected by “suspected forgers who victimized five campaigns “. Campaign consultant John Yob said the campaign would take the matter to court if necessary.
The office said it did not believe any specific campaigns or candidates were aware of what the “fraudulent petition distributors were doing.” Staff wrote that the bureau was working to refer the fraud to law enforcement for a criminal investigation.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.