Five candidates vying for the right to challenge Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) are facing the possibility of being eliminated even before the primary election after a state board found their campaigns filed thousands of fraudulent signatures.
Michigan’s Bureau of Elections issued a formal recommendation late Monday that the five candidates — including two leading contenders — be removed from the August primary ballot. The recommendation will go before the four-member Board of State Canvassers, a bipartisan panel made up of two Democrats and two Republicans, who meet on Thursday.
The bureau said former Detroit Police Chief James Craig (R), who has led some early polling in the race, submitted only 10,192 valid signatures, along with nearly 10,000 signatures that were allegedly fraudulent. Another prime contender, businessman Perry Johnson (R), turned in 13,800 valid signatures and another 9,393 that were invalid, including 6,983 that were allegedly fraudulent.
Three other lesser-known candidates also failed to file enough valid signatures.
Candidates must submit 15,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
The Bureau of Elections said that the five candidates had filed forms that showed telltale signs of fraud, including forms that featured the same handwriting across multiple signatures and some that did not show signs of wear and tear typical of a used petition.
Both the Michigan Democratic Party and Tudor Dixon (R), a conservative activist also running for governor, had filed complaints challenging the signatures. But the bureau said they had identified the alleged fraud on their own, without considering the outside challenges.
In their own review, “staff noticed a large number of petition sheets, submitted by certain circulators, appeared fraudulent and consisted entirely of invalid signatures,” the bureau said in its report. They said some petitions showed signs of “round-tabling,” a practice in which petition gatherers sign each other’s forms in succession to vary handwriting and make signatures appear authentic.
The bureau said they did not have reason to believe the campaigns were aware of the fraudulent signatures turned in by paid signature gatherers.
Johnson, who has self-funded much of his own campaign, released a plan to reform the petition process just hours before the announcement on his own petitions. In a statement, Johnson’s consultant blamed the signature gatherers and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D).
“The staff of the Democrat secretary of state does not have the right to unilaterally void every signature obtained by the alleged forgers who victimized five campaigns,” Johnson strategist John Yob said. “We strongly believe they are refusing to count thousands of signatures from legitimate voters who signed the petitions and look forward to winning this fight before the board, and if necessary, in the courts.”
If Craig and Johnson are excluded from the ballot, Dixon stands poised to become the Republican front-runner. On Monday, the powerful DeVos family — major donors in Michigan Republican circles — said they would back Dixon for governor.
The winner of the Aug. 2 primary will be immediately thrust into one of the most high-profile contests in the nation, facing off against Whitmer in the battle to control a key swing state. The most recent survey of the race, conducted in January by the Michigan-based pollster EPIC-MRA, found Whitmer’s job approval rating underwater, though Whitmer led Craig in a hypothetical match-up. The poll did not test Johnson or Dixon against the incumbent.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism