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Elections bureau recommends striking half of GOP gubernatorial contenders from ballot

James Craig at a podium with microphones on Tuesday, Sept. 14
Zoe Clark
Michigan Radio
James Craig, shown here at a campaign announcement in September 2021, led a recent poll of likely Republican primary voters. He's one of the five candidates that Michigan Board of Elections staff recommended leaving off the primary ballot in a series of reports released Monday, May 23.

Half of Michigan’s GOP gubernatorial candidates should not be on the state's fall primary ballot.

That’s the conclusion of a series of reports released Monday night by state Bureau of Elections staff.

They detail how errors and the use of alleged “fraudulent-petition circulators” prevented five campaigns from reaching the qualifying 15,000-signature threshold.

The bureau noted the rarity of so many problems in so many petitions.

“Although it is typical for staff to encounter some signatures of dubious authenticity scattered within nominating petitions, the Bureau is unaware of another election cycle in which this many circulators submitted such a substantial volume of fraudulent petition sheets consisting of invalid signatures,” the introduction to the "omnibus" overview report reads.

In it, staffers said the alleged fraud could result in some criminal investigations, but there’s no reason to believe the campaigns were aware of fraud being undertaken by the people gathering signatures for them.

Gop Petition Signature Bureau of Elections
Michigan Bureau of Elections
A report issued May 23, 2022, by Michigan Bureau of Elections staff says the campaigns of several Republican gubernatorial candidates submitted fraudulent signature sheets purporting to be signed by several people but that were "clearly completed by a single hand."

The reports are ahead of a Board of State Canvassers meeting scheduled for May 26. That’s when the board will decide whether to certify candidates to appear on the August primary ballot.
The five gubernatorial campaigns in peril include recent frontrunner James Craig, who led a poll of likely Republican primary voters earlier this month, as well as Perry Johnson, Michael J. Markey Jr., Donna Brandenburg, and Michael Brown.

When reached for comment Monday evening, neither Brandenburg nor Brown had seen the report. Both seemed surprised at the news. Brown questioned whether it was true, and Brandenburg said she would see how things play out before commenting.

The Craig, Johnson, and Markey campaigns did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Campaigns for both Craig and Johnson, as well as fellow Republican Tudor Dixon, had been under scrutiny following the announcement of a Democratic-led challenge to their candidacies last month.

“In total, staff’s review of Mr. Craig’s petition sheets identified 11,113 invalid signatures and 10,192 facially valid signatures, which dropped him below the 15,000 threshold and rendered him ineligible for the ballot,” the report on Craig’s campaign read.

Gop Petition Signatures Bureau of Elections 2
Michigan Bureau of Elections
Some of the petition circulators who submitted allegedly fraudulent signatures for the campaigns of Republican gubernatorial candidates in Michigan "made little effort to vary handwriting," the state Bureau of Elections says in a May 23, 2022 report.

Reviews in Johnson’s case found a total of 9,393 invalid signatures, leaving him 1,200 below the qualifying threshold.
“Through its review, staff identified a number of fraudulent signatures that were purported to be from voters who had been canceled. Voters were canceled for a variety of reasons which included moving out of state and death. Several signatures also listed an address where the voter has not resided from at least one to eight years prior to signing,” the report on Johnson said.

Though Democrats had also challenged some of Dixon’s signatures, the crux of their argument was based around the assertion that her paperwork listed the wrong date for the end of the governor’s term.

Staffers found this to be a non-issue.

The report called the error a “defect” that was “harmless” since there was only one possible end date for the governor’s term. It recommended the challenge to Dixon’s signatures be rejected.

Outside of the gubernatorial race, several other campaigns faced investigation for faulty signatures, though not all dipped below the threshold for inclusion on the primary ballot.

The full list of reports released Monday night is available here.

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