Details: Why petitions for 3 Michigan GOP governor candidates are being challenged

Challengers allege fraud, inaccurate information on petition sheets

James Craig, a former Detroit Police Chief, announces he is a Republican candidate for Governor of Michigan in Detroit, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) (Paul Sancya, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Petitions filed by three Republicans seeking to run for Michigan governor this year are being challenged due to alleged forgery and other signature and form issues.

Complaints have been filed against petitions submitted by Republican candidates James Craig, former conservative TV host Tudor Dixon and businessman Perry Johnson. Complaints against the three candidates were announced by the Michigan Democratic Party on Wednesday. Michigan Strong, a super PAC that is tied to Dixon, is also accusing Craig of submitting fraudulent and invalid petitions.

Individuals hoping to run for Michigan governor in the 2022 election are required to submit petitions with at least 15,000 signatures from registered Michigan voters across the state, showing their support for the potential candidate. Petition documents are subject to meticulous rules in order to ensure accuracy and legitimacy.

Ten Republicans filed petitions by the April 19 deadline to enter the GOP primary race in hopes of running against incumbent and Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the 2022 gubernatorial election. Now, one week later, challenges to petitions have been made to the Michigan Board of State Canvassers, threatening to disqualify Craig, Dixon and Johnson from the primary.

Here’s a breakdown of the challenges against each of the three potential candidates and their submitted petitions.

Complaints against James Craig

Petition circulators in charge of petitions for former Detroit police chief James Craig are being accused of forging thousands of signatures using a process called “round-robining.” Through this process, a small group of individuals write names, addresses and fake signatures across several petition sheets using a list of real voters. Circulators who do this reportedly take turns signing a line on each sheet in an effort to vary handwriting and make signatures appear authentic.

In a complaint, at least eight of Craig’s circulators are accused of forging 6,933 signatures across 710 petition sheets. All of these signatures are being challenged.

In addition to the alleged round-robining, a complaint alleges that hundreds of other signatures are being challenged because they are incomplete or inaccurate, duplicates or signed by deceased voters. Voters are only allowed to sign a petition once -- if their signature appears more than once, all of their signatures are deemed invalid.

The complaint alleges that at least 30 signatures included on Craig’s petition sheets were from deceased voters.

Challenged petition sheets also reportedly had defective headings, many with incorrect county names, and defective circulator certificates. The petition sheets also included an incorrect date, with a “term expiration date” written as 2026 instead of 2027. This, officials say, is enough grounds to deem the petitions invalid altogether, due to voters signing onto an inaccurate statement.

Overall, the complaint -- filed by the Goodman Acker law firm -- is challenging over 9,600 signatures submitted by Craig.

Michigan Strong says that they reviewed Craig’s petitions, and found several significant issues.

“After our review of Craig’s petitions, we concluded that the combination of incompetence, invalidity, unregistered voters, and apparent fraud means that there is a strong possibility that Craig submitted insufficient signatures to qualify as a Republican candidate for Governor -- and it’s likely that the Craig campaign knows it.

“Craig’s incompetent campaign attempted to submit an additional 4,200 signatures last Tuesday at 4:30 pm, apparently unaware that the hard and fast filing deadline was at 4:00. Thousands of other signatures were collected with the same seeming indifference for the law, including obvious cases of circulator forgery.

“We have submitted a detailed inventory of challenges to the Bureau of Elections for their careful and professional review. We hope any fraud that is encountered will be referred to the Attorney General as well. Clearly, the overwhelming demand for election integrity from GOP voters wasn’t communicated to Craig’s campaign.”

Fred Wszolek, spokesman for Michigan Strong PAC

In response Marli Blackman, a spokesperson for Craig’s campaign, said they have “total confidence” in the signatures submitted, and said the challenges are a “last-ditch effort” by his opponents.

You can read the entire complaint against Craig and his petitions below.

Complaints against Tudor Dixon

A complaint was filed against several of Dixon’s petitions and signatures, arguing that forms include inaccurate data, and that there believed to be forged signatures.

In a complaint filed by attorney Stevel Liedel at Dykema Gossett PLLC, an inaccurate term end date was included at the top of petition forms. The forms reportedly said that the next governor’s term would expire in 2026, which is inaccurate. Petitions are reportedly not required to even include the date of the term’s end, but because these petitions did include it, they are not allowed to be inaccurate.

The inaccuracy violates the rules for the forms and is “misleading” to voters who signed, which is enough to invalidate the forms altogether, challengers argue.

It is also alleged that one of the eight circulators accused of round-robining Craig’s forms also circulated forms for Dixon. Due to the challenge against Craig and other “similar indications of similar handwriting on multiple entries and other visual indicators of potential forgeries,” challengers are requesting that any signatures collected by this particular circulator also be challenged.

There are a umber of discrepancies listed against Dixon’s petitions, including at least 25 signatures from deceased voters.

Dixon responded to the allegations, calling the challenge “desperate” and “bogus,” saying Democrats will “do anything to protect Gretchen Whitmer from having to face me.”

You can read the entire complaint against Dixon and her petitions below.

Complaints against Perry Johnson

Attorney Liedel also filed a complaint against Johnson, challenging his petition signatures.

The complaint alleges that at least 66 signatures are from deceased voters, and asks the Board of State Canvassers to investigate if the “inclusion of these dead individuals is an indication of more comprehensive fraud.”

Similarly to Dixon’s situation, challengers say six of the eight circulators accused of forging signatures for Craig’s campaign also circulated petitions for Johnson’s campaign. Complainants are challenging 343 of Johnson’s petition sheets for this reason.

A specific case of forgery was also listed in the complaint. According to challengers, the signature of a Royal Oak woman was included on a petition sheet, when the woman says she never signed any such petition for a Republican candidate hopeful. A sworn statement signed by the woman was included in the complaint. Challengers argue that any signatures connected to the circulator that approved the Royal Oak woman’s signature should be investigated.

A number of other discrepancies were listed in the challenge against signatures for Johnson. Hundreds of signatures were cited for being duplicates, not matching signatures on file, having address or jurisdiction errors, date errors and more.

“Even if every absurd accusation made by the Democrats was legitimate, they still failed to challenge enough to impact his ballot access,” said John Yob, a campaign consultant for Johnson. “Perry will be on the ballot and we look forward to seeing the results of the more statistically consequential challenges made of other candidates.”

You can read the entire complaint against Johnson and his petitions below.

In each of the complaints included above, specific examples of alleged fraud and inaccuracy are provided as exhibits. Petition sheets are subject to specific rules, much like actual ballots, in order to be considered valid.

The Michigan Republican Party says the challenges made against the submitted petitions are “desperate.”

“It’s clear the fix is in by Democrats to try and prevent our candidates from qualifying for the ballot against Gretchen Whitmer, and it’s their most desperate move yet to take away choice from working Michiganders struggling to make ends meet thanks to Democrats,” said Gustavo Portela, MIGOP communications director. “They will not silence Republican candidates who are going to fight for working Michiganders and ensure they are able to keep more of their hard-earned dollars. We’re fighting to make Michigan a more affordable place to live and it’s clear that goes against what Democrats like Gretchen Whitmer and Joe Biden want. After the dust has settled from this desperate attempt, a Republican Governor will be elected by working Michiganders to bring prosperity and opportunity back to Michigan.”

The state elections bureau will review the challenges and then present their findings and suggestions to the Board of State Canvassers. Ballots for the primary election are printed in June.

The filing deadline for political office has come and gone and all sorts of busy bees have been combing through the candidate petitions looking for errors.

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About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.