Michigan Republican gubernatorial campaigns accused of forging petition signatures

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Complaints have been filed against the campaigns of Republican candidates James Craig, Tudor Dixon, and Perry Johnson.

Former Detroit Chief of Police James Craig's bid for Michigan governor is facing an uncertain future after opponents accused his campaign on April 26 of relying on fraudulent signatures to get on the ballot, potentially bringing his run to an early end.

Just a few weeks ago, Craig, the overall front-runner in the race for Michigan governor, seemed poised to be on the ballot for his party's nomination for governor, along with nine other Republicans in the largest primary field in state history. On April 18, the day before the state filing deadline for gubernatorial candidates, Craig submitted 21,735 signatures supporting his candidacy at the Michigan secretary of state's office, easily more than the 15,000 minimum necessary to appear on the primary ballot.

But a week later the Michigan Democratic Party, as well as a PAC supporting Tudor Dixon, a conservative talk show host running against Craig in the Republican primary, submitted separate complaints to the Michigan Board of State Canvassers alleging that the Craig campaign had relied on nearly 7,000 forged signatures to clear the 15,000 requirement.

In a filing that begins with the words "Michigan statewide elections have never seen a set of petitions as flawed as those of James Craig," the Michigan Democratic Party claims that eight petition circulators who collected signatures to put the ex-police chief on the ballot used a tactic called "round-robining," which the complaint defines as "A common technique of forging petition signatures ... in which a group of people sign names and addresses on petitions in turn, one per sheet, using a list of voters." Because each voter's supposed signature on a specific sheet is written by a different circulator, the sheet appears to be filled with the signatures of different voters. The fraud only becomes apparent when the signatures and handwriting are compared across multiple pages.

In total, the 145-page complaint identifies nearly 6,933 signatures forged in this way, as well as more than 300 duplicates and 30 in the names of dead voters.

Fred Wszolek, a spokesperson for Michigan Strong PAC that is supporting Dixon, said, "After our review of Craig's petitions, we concluded that the combination of incompetence, invalidity, unregistered voters and apparent fraud means there is a strong probability that Craig submitted insufficient signatures to qualify as a Republican candidate for the governor — and it's likely that the Craig campaign knows it."

Craig is not the only candidate whose petitions are being challenged by the Michigan Democratic Party. According to two other complaints, Dixon herself relied on one of the circulators named in the complaint against Craig's campaign, while Perry Johnson, a businessman who is self-funding his campaign for the Republican nomination, used six of the same eight circulators cited in the complaint against Craig to collect signatures for his petition.

Further down the ballot, Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor Tricia Dare, a candidate for a seat on the Oakland County Circuit Court, is facing a complaint that alleges those same eight circulators forged some 4,200 signatures for her petition.

The complaint against Dixon also argues that all her signatures should be thrown out because her petition misidentifies the next gubernatorial term as ending in 2026. It actually ends on Jan. 1, 2027.

There is some precedent for such a move. Craig Munger, a political reporter for Detroit News, called attention on Twitter to the 2018 case of Democrat Matt Morgan, a candidate for U.S. House who was kicked off the ballot for listing a P.O. box instead of a physical address on his petition.

If the challenges are successful, Craig, Johnson, and Dixon will not be on the ballot for the Aug. 2 Republican primary. That would be a serious blow for state Republicans: Craig, Johnson, and Dixon are the leading candidates for the party's nomination, and Craig is the only Republican candidate to outpoll incumbent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The Board of Canvassers will rule on May 26 which — if any — of the three accused Republicans will make the ballot.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.