Board may find Republican Michigan gubernatorial candidates ineligible

Two of the leading contenders for the Republican nomination for Michigan governor may not be eligible for the primary ballot on Thursday, after the state elections office said they did not submit enough valid petition signatures to qualify for the August contest.

In a recommendation that immediately rocked the gubernatorial race, board staff said Monday that former Detroit Police Chief James Craig and businessman Perry Johnson, along with three other lesser-known candidates, should be declared no eligible. A bipartisan four-person State Canvassing Board will vote on the recommendations Thursday, though candidates who don’t make the ballot could challenge the decision in court.

The candidates were among a 10-person field vying to take on Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for control of the battleground state in November.

Democrats defied requests from Republican candidates, citing massive forgery and other problems. Another Republican candidate, Tudor Dixon, also disputed Craig’s voter signatures as fake. However, the office said it discovered the fraud in its own review and did not process the challenges brought by the Michigan Democratic Party and Dixon.

Craig was leading in most Republican primary polls, while Johnson has already spent millions of his personal fortune on the race. Office staff also determined that three other lesser-known Republican candidates, Donna Brandenburg, Michael Brown and Michael Markey, did not submit enough valid signatures. Brown withdrew from the race on Tuesday.

Gubernatorial candidates had to present valid signatures from 15,000 registered voters to hold the vote. In a report released late Monday, office staff said multiple petition sheets from various candidates “displayed suspicious patterns indicative of fraud.” Some of the petitions for Craig’s campaign, for example, had signatures that seemed to all be in the same handwriting.

The staff said that while petitions typically include scattered instances of dubious signatures, “the Bureau is not aware of another election cycle” with such a “substantial volume” of fraudulent signatures, involving multiple candidates. They identified 36 petition circulators, or people who collect signatures and are often paid per signature, who submitted petition sheets made up entirely of invalid signatures. They collected signatures for 10 candidates, including some seeking judge positions, the office said.

The office said Craig submitted 10,192 valid signatures, far short of the 15,000 needed. He released 11,113 signatures, including 9,879 that were allegedly fraudulently collected by 18 paid circulators.

Staff said Johnson submitted 13,800 valid signatures. They threw away 9,393, including 6,983 they said were fraudulent and were put together by many of the same people who also forged the signatures Craig submitted.

Johnson’s campaign criticized the recommendations of the office, which is part of the office of Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, saying they have no right to throw away signatures gathered by “alleged forgers who victimized five campaigns.” Campaign consultant John Yob said the campaign would take the matter to court if necessary.

The office said it does not believe that specific campaigns or candidates were aware of what “fraudulent petition circulators” were doing. Staff wrote that the office was working to refer the fraud to police for criminal investigation.

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