MI board to decide if any GOP gubernatorial candidates will be left off primary ballot
The Michigan Bureau of Elections found that 68,000 signatures on petitions supporting some Republican candidates for governor were likely forged, duplicates, or otherwise invalid. That led the bureau to recommend that five of the 10 candidates be left off the August Republican primary ballot.
The bipartisan Michigan Board of State Canvassers will meet Thursday to decide which candidates are certified for that ballot. The board is not bound to follow the recommendations. There are also calls for investigations into the invalid signatures.
For more on this story, Detroit Free Press reporter Paul Egan talked to Michigan Radio Morning Edition host Doug Tribou.
Doug Tribou: The five candidates' campaigns flagged by the Bureau of Elections are James Craig, Perry Johnson, Michael Markey, Jr., Michael Brown, and Donna Brandenburg. Michael Brown has since withdrawn from the race. What do we know about these petition signatures and exactly why they were deemed to be invalid?
Paul Egan: They found large numbers of dead voters' names. They found voters' names that no longer lived at the addresses that they were listed at. They found pages where the handwriting appeared to be similar for all kinds of names. They found sheets that didn't have the wear and tear you would expect from being passed around and circulated. So, they found a lot of red flags and they ended up finding a lot of fraudulent signatures.
DT: The scope of it is is pretty shocking, I have to say. 68,000 signatures. You spoke with some veteran Republican political strategists about the situation. What did they have to say about some of the missteps and other contributing factors that led to this?
PE: One of the people I spoke to was Jason Watts. He's a longtime Republican activist in Clinton County. And he said some of this is really related to the pandemic, in a way. It's hard to find low-cost labor. People were not relying on volunteers. And, it's just harder to come into physical contact with people during the pandemic.
A lot of people left it too late. They were trying to find circulators. They were hard to find. The prices were going up. Some of them were facing this April deadline to submit the petitions. And it was kind of like, what's the point of scrutinizing them, [Watts] speculated, for some candidates, "because even if we find that they are no good, we don't have time to replace them."
[But] it certainly doesn't explain everything because you have a candidate like Michael Markey, who had one of the highest rates of fraudulent signatures, and and he submitted his petitions quite early.
DT: Former Detroit police chief James Craig, who had been considered by many to be a front-runner in the Republican race, is calling on Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to investigate the signatures. If the candidates are left off the ballot, what other options would they have for recourse?
PE: There's certainly the possibility of challenging the decision of the Board of State Canvassers in court. Because the Bureau of Elections report is pretty clear and the numbers are pretty dramatic, it seems likely that the board is going to vote to remove these candidates from the ballots. Although some of [the candidates] will argue, "We've been victims of crimes, we shouldn't be victimized again."
Fact is, the onus is really on the campaigns to vet these signatures. But we've already heard from at least one campaign that they're likely to go to court to try to overturn any effort to keep them off the ballot. What we may also see is civil litigation between some of the campaigns and the signature companies, sort of a breach-of-contract-type case where [the campaigns argue], "You promised me you were going to get me some legitimate signatures and you didn't."
DT: Where does this leave the candidates who did have enough valid signatures Tudor Dixon, Kevin Rinke, Garrett Solodano, Ryan Kelley, and Ralph Rebandt?
PE: Well, they're certainly in a much stronger position. Although he was faltering, it was kind of an acknowledged front runner that most of the polls reflected James Craig. If he's removed from the ballot, along with someone like Perry Johnson, a self-funding millionaire who certainly had the resources to put up a lot of TV ads, you have five candidates, probably with no clear front runner. Most of the Republicans I talked to say that there's kind of two tiers now with Tudor Dixon, Garrett Soldano and Kevin Rinke, another self-funding millionaire, probably in the top tier. And the other two are Ryan Kelley, and Ralph Rebandt trying to catch up.
Editor's note: Quotes in this story have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.
"GOP to Board of Canvassers on petition fraud scandal: Evaluate each signature one-by-one" by Paul Egan for The Detroit Free Press
"Fraudulent petition signatures turn Michigan's GOP race for governor on its head" by Paul Egan for The Detroit Free Press
"James Craig wants AG Dana Nessel to investigate fraudulent signatures on GOP petitions" by Paul Egan for The Detroit Free Press
Copyright 2022 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.