James Craig, the former Detroit police chief running for governor, is being disqualified by the Bureau of Elections after a review noted that Craig, alongside four other Republican candidates, have not filed enough valid signatures for their names to appear on the primary ballot in August.
Craig, who was once a frontrunner to be the Republican candidate for governor, faced two separate complaints which alleged that many of the signatures he gathered were either illegitimate or suspect in quality.
The first complaint, filed by a resident represented by the former Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer, alleges that they found almost 7,000 of Craig’s signatures to be forged and nearly 2,000 to be defective. Meanwhile, over 300 signatures were duplicates, while nearly 200 came from unregistered voters. 30 signatures also belonged to deceased voters.
The complaint from Michigan Strong PAC, a conservative group, echoed Brewer, alleging that Craig engaged in illegal activities in collecting signatures for his campaign.
Alongside Craig, the four other Republican candidates faced disqualification from the primary ballot due to fraudulent signatures include Perry Johnson, Michael Brown, Donna Brandenburg, and Michael Markey. This could potentially reshape the entire Republican primary race, as five of the 10 candidates could be disqualified.
Tudor Dixon, Ryan Kelley, Ralph Rebandt, Kevin Rinke, and Garrett Soldano are five of the remaining Republican candidates who stand to gain the most from this shift in political fortunes, as the validity of their signatures were either unchallenged or insufficient for disqualification. Yet as the race continues following the primary reset, no candidate has come forth as a frontrunner.
In Michigan, governor candidates must gather a minimum of 15,000 valid signatures for their name to appear on the ballot. According to the elections report, Craig submitted 21,205 signatures, with only 10,192 of them appearing to be valid. Meanwhile, Johnson submitted 23,193 signatures, with only 13,800 appearing to be valid.
The complaint against Johnson, made by a resident represented by Steve Lidel, alleged that the signatures he gathered were filled with “extensive irregularities, including signatures from dead people, apparent forgeries, extensive signature errors, a high number of duplicate signatures, numerous address and jurisdictional issues, and the use of many of the same petition circulators in apparent illicit petition activities.”
Inspectors discern forged signatures through a variety of processes that include matching names with personal data and checking to see if the signatures are “round-tabled,” a practice in which multiple people sign different parts of a name to avoid detection from forgery.
David Yardley, Brown’s campaign manager, defended his candidate by noting that they were not made aware of the invalidity of their signatures until the last moment. Yet at the same time, experts argue that it’s up to the campaigns themselves to vet the signatures they receive.
The Bureau of Elections found that over 68,000 signatures were forged and submitted by the same 36 petition circulators, some of which were for other races across the state.
While criminal investigations are not off the table, according to the reports on the fraudulent signatures, the Bureau of Elections noted that they “have reason to believe that any specific candidates or campaigns were aware of the activities of fraudulent-petition circulators,” according to the staff reports.