2 GOP gubernatorial candidates in Michigan shouldn't make ballot, Bureau of Elections says

© The Detroit News

Craig Mauger/The Detroit News/TNS

LANSING, Mich. — Former Detroit police Chief James Craig and businessman Perry Johnson, two of the top candidates for the Republican nomination for governor, didn't submit enough valid petition signatures to make the ballot, according to findings from the Michigan Bureau of Elections.

The bureau found that Craig's campaign had turned in 11,113 invalid signatures, including 9,879 signatures from "fraudulent petition circulators."

Only 10,192 of the 21,305 signatures Craig submitted were "facially valid," leaving him short of the 15,000 signature threshold, according to the bureau.

"(T)he Bureau did not fully process the challenge because the number of signatures removed from the total after the review of fraudulent-petition circulators were such that Mr. Craig was already far below the minimum threshold for ballot access," the bureau wrote in its report.

As for Johnson, the bureau identified 9,393 invalid signatures and 13,800 facially valid signatures, dropping him below the 15,000 threshold and rendering "him ineligible for the ballot."

The Board of State Canvassers, a panel that features two Democrats and two Republicans, will consider the bureau's findings on Thursday during a meeting in downtown Lansing. The board could go along with the recommendations or diverge from them. However, it would take three of four board members to go against the recommendations, according to the Michigan Secretary of State's office.

Candidates could also take the matter to court.

The Bureau of Elections went against against a challenge to businesswoman and conservative commentator Tudor Dixon's signatures, saying she submitted enough signatures.

Michigan Democrats had challenged the petitions of Craig, Dixon and Johnson, who were widely considered to be among the top contenders for the GOP nomination. Candidates for governor had to submit 15,000 valid signatures from registered voters by April 19 to get their names on the August primary ballot, a key hurdle in launching a campaign for the state's top office.

Craig's campaign submitted about 21,000 petition signatures. But the Michigan Democratic Party found "obvious forgery affecting thousands of signatures to hundreds of entire sheets invalidated by defective headings and circulator certificates to signatures from dead voters," according to its challenge.

Mark Brewer, a longtime Michigan elections lawyer and former chairman of the state Democratic Party, signed the challenge to Craig's signatures. Craig's "petitions fall well short of providing the necessary 15,000 valid signatures necessary to qualify for the primary election ballot," Brewer wrote.

In his challenge, Brewer claimed eight petition circulators had "forged or permitted the forgery" of 6,933 signatures. He alleged they used a strategy of "round robining," in which multiple signature gatherers forge signatures on multiple petitions sheets to try to cover up the tactic.

Michigan Strong, a political action committee supporting Dixon's bid for governor, also challenged Craig's signatures.

Working on behalf of the Craig campaign, lawyer Edward Greim said in a May 9 filing, claims the former Detroit police chief submitted thousands of fraudulent petition signatures were "troubling" but Greim said the allegations weren't enough to keep him off the ballot.

"Despite the potential efforts of a group of circulators to defraud the campaign, it is our belief that the petition remains valid," Greim wrote. "That is because most of the technical challenges fail, and a signature comparison will likely show that the circulators did not write in a sufficient number of false signatures to erase the comfortable cushion of supporters amassed by the campaign."

In a separate Democratic Party-backed challenge against Johnson's petitions, Steven Liedel, an attorney with the firm Dykema, said a "thorough canvass" of the signatures was warranted because of "extensive irregularities." Johnson of Bloomfield Hills had submitted about 22,700 signatures.

The irregularities included signatures from dead people, apparent forgeries, extensive signature errors, a high number of duplicate signatures and numerous address and jurisdictional issues, Liedel's complaint said.

Johnson's campaign consultant, John Yob, called the Democratic accusations "absurd." Even if the claims were legitimate, Yob added, "they still failed to challenge enough to impact his ballot access."

On Monday, hours before the Bureau of Elections recommendations became public, Johnson, who's been running on a "quality guru" campaign theme, proposed a plan to improve state's petition process. Firms that hire petition circulators should be licensed by the state, and the Secretary of State's office should offer a signature verification service "to more quickly root out crooks seeking to defraud candidates and their supporters," Johnson said.

Those who challenge signatures, Johnson said, should be required to cover the costs of both the state and the candidate committee or ballot committee that was forced to defend against a frivolous challenge.

For Dixon's signatures, the Democratic challenge focused on the heading of her petitions listing 2026 as the expiration date of the term she was running for as a gubernatorial candidate. However, Michigan election law says a governor's term ends on Jan. 1 following a gubernatorial election, which would be Jan. 1, 2027.

"While the Michigan Election Law permits deviations from requirements relating to petition form requirements in limited specific instances, no provision of the Michigan Election Law permits the inclusion of false, inaccurate, or misleading information in the heading of a petition," Liedel wrote in the Dixon challenge.

Dixon's campaign submitted 29,735 signatures. The maximum a candidate can file is 30,000.

Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig is seeking the Republican nomination for Michigan governor. - Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press/TNS