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Elections bureau recommends striking half of GOP gubernatorial contenders from ballot

James Craig speaking into microphones a podium outside. Someone is holding an American flag in the background
Russ McNamara
Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig is one of the candidates that has failed to receive enough valid nominating signatures from voters.

Half of Michigan’s GOP gubernatorial candidates should not be on the state's fall primary ballot.

That’s the conclusion of a series of reports released Monday night from Bureau of Elections staff.

They detail how errors and the use of alleged “fraudulent-petition circulators” prevented five campaigns from reaching the qualifying 15,000-signature threshold.

The bureau noted the rarity of so many problems in so many petitions.

“Although it is typical for staff to encounter some signatures of dubious authenticity scattered within nominating petitions, the Bureau is unaware of another election cycle in which this many circulators submitted such a substantial volume of fraudulent petition sheets consisting of invalid signatures,” the introduction to the report reads.

In it, staffers said the alleged fraud could result in some criminal investigations, but there’s no reason to believe the campaigns were aware of fraud being undertaken by the people gathering signatures for them.

The reports are ahead of a Board of State Canvassers meeting scheduled for May 26. That’s when the board will decide whether to certify candidates to the August primary ballot.

The five gubernatorial campaigns in peril include recent frontrunner James Craig, who led a poll of likely Republican primary voters earlier this month, as well as Perry Johnson, Michael J. Markey Jr., Donna Brandenburg, and Michael Brown.

When reached for comment Monday evening, neither Brandenburg nor Brown had seen the report. Both seemed surprised at the news. Brown questioned whether it was true, and Brandenburg said she would see how things play out before commenting.

Brown put out a statement Tuesday morning withdrawing from the race saying he "cannot and will not be associated with this activity," referring to the fraudulent signature gathering.

The Craig, Johnson, and Markey campaigns did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Campaigns for both Craig and Johnson, as well as fellow Republican Tudor Dixon, had been under scrutiny following the announcement of a Democratic-led challenge to their candidacies last month.

“In total, staff’s review of Mr. Craig’s petition sheets identified 11,113 invalid signatures and 10,192 facially valid signatures, which dropped him below the 15,000 threshold and rendered him ineligible for the ballot,” the report on Craig’s campaign reads.

Reviews in Johnson’s case found a total of 9,393 invalid signatures, leaving him 1,200 below the qualifying threshold.

“Through its review, staff identified a number of fraudulent signatures that were purported to be from voters who had been canceled. Voters were canceled for a variety of reasons which included moving out of state and death. Several signatures also listed an address where the voter has not resided from at least one to eight years prior to signing,” the report on Johnson said.

Though Democrats had also challenged some of Dixon’s signatures, the crux of their argument was based around the assertion that her paperwork listed the wrong date for the end of the governor’s term.

Staffers found this to be a non-issue.

The report called the error a “defect” that was “harmless” since there was only one possible end date for the governor’s term. It recommended the challenge to Dixon’s signatures be rejected.

Outside of the gubernatorial race, several other campaigns faced investigation for faulty signatures, though not all dipped below the threshold for inclusion on the primary ballot.

The full list of reports released Monday night is available here.

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