Fraud accusations put Michigan GOP governor candidacies in doubt

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Five of 10 Republican candidates for governor of Michigan are unlikely to make it onto the ballot before the primary election on Aug. 2.

The Michigan Bureau of Elections released a number of reports on Monday on its findings during a review of nominating petitions submitted by candidates for the state's Aug. 2, 2022, primary election. The agency found that 36 petition circulators had produced "fraudulent petition sheets consisting entirely of invalid signatures. All petition sheets submitted by these circulators displayed suspicious patterns indicative of fraud, and staff reviewing these signatures against the Qualified Voter File (QVF) did not identify any signatures that appeared to be submitted by a registered voter."

According to Michigan law, major-party candidates for statewide office must submit a minimum of 15,000 signatures from registered voters in at least half of the state's congressional districts in order to be placed on the ballot.

Michigan Public Radio was among the outlets reporting the Bureau of Elections contends that five of the 10 Republican candidates for governor are ineligible to be on the ballot because they did not meet the 15,000 threshold.

The report on the petitions submitted by the campaign of James Craig, a former chief of the Detroit Police and the front-runner in the Republican primary, found that only 10,192 of the signatures were valid, leaving him far short of the threshold. A complaint was filed alleging fraud in Craig's petition by an attorney on behalf of a Michigan resident in April; Craig also faced a challenge to his petition from fellow Republican candidate Tudor Dixon, whose petition was also facing a challenge from the Democratic Party. 

Candidate Perry Johnson also failed to make the signature threshold, according to the Bureau of Elections, coming in almost 2,000 signatures short.

A challenge to Johnson's petition filed by attorney Steven Liedel in April states: "A thorough canvass and investigation by the Board are warranted because of extensive irregularities, including signatures from dead people, apparent forgeries, extensive signature errors, a high number of duplicate signatures, numerous address and jurisdictional issues, and the use of many of the same petition circulators in apparent illicit petition activities as documented in a separate complaint filed today regarding the nominating petitions submitted by James Craig."

Professor Michael Greiner of the Oakland University School of Business Administration in Rochester, Michigan, noted in a comment to the American Independent Foundation regarding Johnson, "This seems like a pretty big quality-control failure."

Also covered in the reports are gubernatorial candidates Michael Brown, Donna Brandenburg, and Michael Markey. Brown dropped out of the race Tuesday morning. A Democratic challenge to Dixon's petition was denied by the bureau based on a ruling that an error in a date did not disqualify it and was "harmless."

The Bureau of Elections said that it does not have any reason to suspect intentional fraud on the part of the candidates or campaigns, presuming they had been unaware of the activities of the petition circulators. 

David Dulio, director of Oakland University's Center for Civic Engagement, told the American Independent Foundation in an interview that the future looked bleak for the five candidates whose petitions had fallen short: "I don't think there's any question that you're going to see a bunch of lawsuits now. I think they are indeed going to be kicked off. Based on what we know today, I think it's probable they are not on the ballot."

Should that happen, the remaining Republican candidates would be Garrett Soldano, Tudor Dixon, Ryan Kelley, Kevin Rinke and Ralph Rebandt, all of whom have made denying the validity of the 2020 presidential election a key part of their campaigns.

"Based on the debate they had a couple of weeks ago in Livingston County, it's safe to say they didn't differentiate themselves very much on the most important issues," Dulio said. "That tells you how strong Trumpism is on a grassroots level in Michigan." 

The Bureau of Elections' reports will now go to the Michigan Board of Canvassers, which will review the recommendations and issue a formal decision on Thursday. 

Another debate is scheduled for June 2 at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference. Originally intended for the top five candidates, it now features four after Ryan Kelley withdrew in protest over the conference venue's COVID-19 policies. Of those, Craig and Johnson are now in doubt.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.