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Board of Canvassers rules five Michigan GOP primary candidates ineligible for ballot

The candidates have the option to challenge this ruling in court before ballots are finalized on June 3.
Michigan Elections
Michigan Elections(WLUC)
Published: May. 26, 2022 at 8:50 AM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WLUC) - Two of the leading candidates for the GOP nomination for Michigan governor have been found ineligible for the August primary.

At a Board of Canvassers hearing Thursday, State Elections Bureau Director Johnathan Brater said 32 candidates total across the state, including 5 GOP governor hopefuls, were deemed to not have enough legitimate signatures to earn a spot on the ballot.

“In the past, we have had the ability with very little difficulty to process a relatively small number of dubious signatures,” Brater said. “This was a different approach because of the unprecedented scale of the fraud we saw here.”

Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who has led in primary polling, and businessman Perry Johnson, along with three other lesser-known candidates, did not qualify for the ballot. Those candidates are Michael Brown, Donna Brandenburg and Michael Markey.

A report released Monday by the State Elections Bureau found 36 total petition circulators who submitted fraudulent petitions in at least 10 petition drives, with at least 68,000 invalid signatures total. To read the State Elections Bureau’s full staff report on alleged fraudulent nominating petitions, click here.

Brater said the State Elections Bureau said it conducted a thorough investigation into the petitions with alleged fraudulent signatures.

“First, we saw obvious indicators of fraud which are described in the staff report and we separated those circulators’ petitions from the rest of the circulators’ petitions in each drive,” Brater said. Brater continued, “We then looked at every single page, every single line of each petition of that category to confirm that we were still seeing what did not look like legitimate signatures there.

Brater added that the State Elections Bureau removed all signatures that did appear valid from these pages.

“To do as much as possible to ensure there were no legitimate signatures mixed in there, we then, after having already looked at every line, looked up as many signatures as we could in the qualified voter file,” Brater said.

The qualified voter file, or QVF, is a database of the signatures of all Michigan’s eligible voters. Brater said the State Elections Bureau ultimately looked up 7,000 of these allegedly fraudulent in the QVF.

“We did not find a single registered voter with a matching signature for any of those circulators for any candidate of the ones we looked at,” Brater said of these 7,000 signatures. “If we found even a small number that looked legitimate, we took them out of the fraudulent circulators category and they are not in this report.”

George Lewis, a licensed lawyer in Michigan, spoke on behalf of James Craig’s campaign. Craig was one of the four GOP gubernatorial hopefuls who either appeared or had legal representation at Thursday’s Board of Canvassers hearing. Michael Brown, a former GOP gubernatorial primary candidate, withdrew from the race Monday.

The State Elections Bureau indicated that 9,879 signatures that Craig received were allegedly fraudulently collected by 18 circulators who were paid by Craig’s campaign. The bureau invalidated 11,113 of the total signatures Craig received. The State Elections Bureau said Craig received 10,192 legitimate signatures but needed 15,000 to make the ballot.

Lewis argued that the State Elections Bureau did not follow the law and take a random sample of signatures. Instead, Lewis said it targeted specific signatures for review and did not inform the campaign.

“We as candidates were not told how many signatures were checked in the QVF,” Lewis said. “I understand you just told Miss Brandenburg that she had 1,000 signatures checked, but we were not told that.”

Donna Brandenburg was accompanied by her legal representative Daniel J. Hartman at Thursday’s hearing. Hartman argued that Brandenburg’s campaign was not given sufficient notice about her campaign’s allegedly fraudulent signatures from when the State Elections Bureau’s staff report dropped Monday to Thursday’s hearing.

“On page two, paragraph one on the 17-page report filed by the Board of Canvassers and the Bureau of Elections, it indicated that they became aware of this problem in March,” Hartman said. Hartman continued, “They did not provide any notice to any candidates that there were fraudulent circulation gatherers out there.”

Lewis added that at least some of the alleged fraudulent signatures for Craig’s campaign are actually real, citing affidavits of identity signed by 15 people who the State Bureau of Elections said were invalid.

“We have 15 affidavits from people who are on those allegedly fraudulent circulator sheets who said that they did sign Chief Craig’s petition,” Lewis said.

Lewis said that all the signatures that Craig’s campaign submitted were not known to be fraudulent.

“We did not know they were fraudulent when we submitted them,” Lewis said. Lewis continued, “We submitted them under good faith believing them to be valid. Only afterward when all of the candidates were compared has it appeared and been brought to our attention that there was fraud here.”

Brater said the affidavits Lewis presented did not necessarily prove that any of the Craig campaign’s nomination signatures were valid.

“We have done a full review and we have used QVF when checking signature validity,” Brater said. “There have not been any specific examples of signatures submitted by the circulators that have actually been asserted to be valid with any level of specificity. We did look quickly at the affidavits and they did not specify whose petitions they signed and I do not believe they say when they signed the petition either.”

The bipartisan Board of State Canvassers ultimately voted 2-2, split along party lines, with candidates needing three votes in support to make the ballot. Now, the candidates have until June 3 to contest this ruling in court for a final time if they wish to join the ballot.

Brater said the State Elections Bureau has to have the ballots confirmed by June 3. Absentee ballots will be out June 18 to overseas Michigan military service members and June 23 to regular voters.

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