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Politics & Government

Democrats allege dead voters, signature fraud in petitions for Republican gubernatorial campaigns

people collecting signatures
Steve Carmody
/
Michigan Radio

The Michigan Democratic Party is challenging nominating petitions for three Republican candidates for Governor.

The complaints against campaigns for Tudor Dixon, James Craig, and Perry Johnson allege forgery, the use of dead voters’ signatures, and date errors.

Attorney Steven Liedel worked on the challenges against the Dixon and Johnson campaigns.

During a Wednesday morning press conference, Liedel said the Johnson campaign submitted at least 66 signatures of voters who were legally dead. He also said the investigation found evidence of voters signing the petition multiple times, as well as people signing more than one nominating form.

“[It] demonstrates serious quality control issues," Liedel said, arguing the Republican candidates' signature-gathering process was rife with problems.

The Johnson campaign submitted 22,700 signatures, according to the Michigan Secretary of State’s website. Major party gubernatorial candidates in the state must file at least 15,000 signatures to get on the primary ballot.

John Yob, a campaign consultant for Johnson's campaign, said the Democrats' claims were weak.

“Democrats are clearly scared of Perry Johnson’s momentum. Even if every absurd accusation made by the Democrats was legitimate, they still failed to challenge enough to impact Perry’s ballot access. Perry will be on the ballot, and it looks like both Chief Craig and Tudor Dixon will be removed,” Yob said in a statement.

His words weren’t far off from Dixon’s response to allegations that her petitions included an inaccurate date for when the governor’s term would end.

“The Democrats are launching a desperate, bogus challenge to our candidate qualifying petitions. The other two may not have enough signatures. For us, they are claiming that valid signatures should be disqualified because the Democrat lawyers find the gubernatorial term ending in 2026 to be confusing,” a statement from Dixon read.

Challengers said the heading on her petitions should show the governor’s term as ending on January 1, 2027. They said her campaign also ran into the issues of signatures by dead voters.

Dixon’s campaign turned in 29,735 signatures. But opponents said the date issue could invalidate the petition pages it submitted.

Meanwhile, former Michigan Democratic Party chair Mark Brewer made several allegations against the Craig campaign at the press conference.

Among them were claims that 6,933 signatures across 710 petition sheets were forged by at least eight forgers.

Brewer said it looked like that happened through a process called “round robin-ing.” That’s where a group takes turns forging signatures on a petition, often leaving tell-tale signs.

“There is extensive evidence of this round robin-ing process. Petition after petition after petition with handwriting that is essentially the same as elsewhere, using these tells,” Brewer told reporters.

If true, that could lower Craig’s 21,000 signatures below the qualifying signature threshold.

“All of these signatures on all of these petitions can be checked. And that is what we hope and expect the Bureau of Elections will now do with the significant evidence that we have filed,” Brewer said.

Craig’s campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Despite campaigns’ optimism, Liedel said candidacies could be at stake.

“It’s a simple issue of math. You will count and eliminate enough signatures until it’s mathematically impossible for a candidate to qualify. Or you can count, and if there are enough for a candidate to qualify, you will get there,” Liedel said.

The Board of State Canvassers will be responsible for resolving the challenges and certifying candidates are qualified for the ballot.

Depending on the board’s actions, incorrect dates on Dixon’s headings could be a problem.

A different issue with petition headings arose In 2018, when Democratic congressional candidate Matt Morgan included a P.O. box instead of his home address on his petition headings, resulting in the rejection of over 1,500 signatures. He ended up running as a write-in candidate.

Still, Dixon remains confident.

“Fortunately for Michiganders, this bogus petition challenge will fail, and I will continue to champion what is true and what is right for Michigan families,” Dixon said.

Democrats are calling for a full canvass of the petitions in a process that would involve checking petition sheets for problems with circulators, voters, and signatures.

The Michigan Republican Party is standing behind its candidates as well.

“They will not silence Republican candidates who are going to fight for working Michiganders and ensure they are able to keep more of their hard-earned dollars. We’re fighting to make Michigan a more affordable place to live and it’s clear that goes against what Democrats like Gretchen Whitmer and Joe Biden want. After the dust has settled from this desperate attempt, a Republican Governor will be elected by working Michiganders to bring prosperity and opportunity back to Michigan,” spokesperson Gustavo Portela said in a statement.

Outside of the governor’s race, several other challenges were filed by Tuesday’s deadline. Those include in at least five races for congress and a handful more for circuit court seats.

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