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Michigan GOP expects dispute over candidate petition signatures to go to court

The Michigan Bureau of Elections staff says 68,000 signatures were likely forged, duplicates, or otherwise invalid.
The Michigan Bureau of Elections staff says 68,000 signatures were likely forged, duplicates or otherwise invalid.

There are calls for investigations and court battles are likely after the Michigan Bureau of Elections determined five Republican candidates for governor failed to file enough valid signatures to qualify for the August primary ballot.

The bureau’s review found 68,000 signatures—
all or most collected by paid circulators—
were likely forged, duplicates or otherwise invalid. The report found 36 circulators turned in sheets filled with nothing but invalid signatures.

Among those who fell short were former Detroit Police Chief James Craig who was a favorite of many GOP leaders. Also, the review shows businessman Perry Johnson, retired Michigan State Police Captain Michael Brown, businesswoman Donna Brandenburg and financial advisor Michael Markey all came up short.

Brown announced he’s accepted the finding and dropped out, while Craig and Johnson say they will fight to get on the primary ballot.

Craig also called for Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to open a criminal investigation.

“The job of the Attorney General is to enforce the laws of our state,” he said. “It is clear that our campaign, along with several others, have been defrauded by these criminals. Whether for political or monetary gain, these individuals must be held accountable for their actions.”

A spokesperson for the Attorney General said that would be premature until the Secretary of State, which oversees elections, refers the case for an investigation, which is very possible.

Michigan Republican Party Chair Ron Weiser, in a statement, accused Democrats of operating “behind the scenes” to disqualify GOP candidates from the primary ballot.

“This is not over,” he said.

The five Republicans who qualified are Tudor Dixon, Garret Soldano, Ryan Kelley, Ralph Rebandt and Kevin Rinke. The next step is for the bipartisan Michigan Board of State Canvassers to decide whether to accept the recommendations. The board meets Thursday.

Tracy Wimmer with the Secretary of State said the board will make its own decisions. It’s compromised of four members: two Republicans and two Democrats.

“The Board of State Canvassers is an independent entity,” she told Michigan Public Radio. “It’s bipartisan. The members on the board are appointed by the governor, and it’s ultimately at their discretion what they will do with that information.”

Decisions by the board require majority votes with at least one member of each party.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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