5 GOP candidates in Michigan ineligible after fraud, election office says

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Five of 10 Republican candidates for the gubernatorial nomination in Michigan are ineligible to appear on the ballot because of invalid signatures on their nominating petitions, the Michigan elections bureau said in a report Monday, upending the race little more than two months before the August primary.

Those the elections bureau said were ineligible include former Detroit police chief James Craig and businessman Perry Johnson, who have been considered the leading candidates for the GOP nomination for Michigan governor. Others were Donna Brandenburg, Michael Brown and Michael Markey.

The Michigan Board of State Canvassers, made up of two Democrats and two Republicans, will meet Thursday morning to discuss the election bureau’s report and rule on whether the candidates can appear on the Aug. 2 primary ballot.

State investigators identified 36 people who circulated petitions “who submitted fraudulent petition sheets consisting entirely of invalid signatures,” according to an elections bureau report published Monday night.

“In total, the Bureau estimates that these circulators submitted at least 68,000 invalid signatures submitted across 10 sets of nominating petitions,” the report stated. “In several instances, the number of invalid signatures submitted by these circulators was the reason a candidate had an insufficient number of valid signatures.”

The gubernatorial candidates were required to collect at least 15,000 valid signatures to appear on the ballot. According to the elections bureau, Craig’s campaign submitted 11,113 invalid signatures and only 10,192 “facially valid” ones, while Johnson’s campaign submitted 9,393 invalid signatures and 13,800 facially valid ones, leaving both below the required threshold.

The bureau’s investigation also found that Brandenburg’s campaign submitted 11,144 invalid signatures and 6,634 facially valid ones; Brown’s campaign submitted 13,809 invalid signatures and 7,091 facially valid ones; and Markey’s campaign submitted 17,374 invalid signatures and 4,430 facially valid ones.

The elections bureau noted that this level of fraud — both in the number of invalid signatures submitted and the number of campaigns affected — was unprecedented. Some of the fraudulent petition sheets tended to show “no evidence of normal wear,” or showed evidence of having been “round-tabled,” a practice in which each person in a group takes turns signing one line of a petition in an attempt to make the signatures appear authentic, the bureau said.

The report comes as former president Donald Trump relentlessly perpetuates the debunked, baseless claim that widespread voter fraud cost him reelection in 2020.

Johnson has said he shares Trump’s “concern about election security” and attended a fundraiser with the former president for a fellow Republican at Mar-a-Lago in March. Craig has sought to distance himself more from Trump’s voter-fraud claims but has said he would support a “thorough audit” of the 2020 election results and would accept Trump’s endorsement if it were offered to him.

The elections bureau said it did not have reason to believe specific candidates or campaigns were aware their petitions were being fraudulently circulated, but made their recommendations to disqualify five of them based on whether a candidate met the 15,000-signature threshold after invalid signatures were removed from their petitions.

Mark Brewer, a former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party who filed a lawsuit challenging Craig’s nominating petition last month, told Bridge Michigan, “The proof just keeps piling up of a massive forgery scheme.”

In a statement Monday, Johnson called for reforms to the nominating petition process, saying it was “fatally flawed.”

“Criminals can commit fraud for money or by purposely infiltrating a victimized campaign with illegitimate signatures in a machiavellian attempt by the opposing party to later have them removed from the ballot,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, the signatures provided to campaigns cannot currently be checked until after their submission to the Secretary of State. This needs to change, immediately.”

John Yob, a consultant for Johnson, said in a set of tweets that the campaign would take the case to court if necessary and cast itself as one of the victims of the forgers.

“The staff of the Democrat Secretary of [State] does not have the right to unilaterally void every single signature obtained by the alleged forgers who victimized five campaigns,” 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.”

Brown, a Marine Corps veteran and commander of the Southwest Michigan District of the State Police, announced Tuesday that he was immediately withdrawing from the governor’s race.

“It appears that after my campaign’s signature gathering was complete, individuals independently contracted for a portion of our signature gathering and validation jumped onto other campaigns and went on a money grab,” Brown said in a statement. “They were involved in allegedly fraudulent signature gathering activities with these campaigns causing the Michigan Bureau of Elections to declare all of the signatures connected to those individuals as invalid. I cannot and will not be associated with this activity.”

The Republican nominee will face Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who is seeking another term.

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