GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Five Republican candidates for governor could be kicked off the ballot for including thousands of fake signatures in their petitions.
That includes two of the top candidates, former Detroit Police Chief James Craig and businessman Perry Johnson.
The Bureau of Elections is also recommending that three lesser-known candidates — Donna Brandenburg, Michael Brown, and Michael Markey — should also be kicked off.
Campaigns need to submit 15,000 valid signatures to make the ballot for governor. Instead of campaigns doing it themselves, many pay signature gatherers.
“For a statewide race where you’ve got to collect thousands of signatures, it’s quite common for campaigns to outsource that activity,” West Michigan University Director of Political Science John Clark said. “To hire a firm that’s responsible for hiring the people to actually collect the signatures.”
After the campaigns submit the required signatures, the Bureau of Elections reviews them.
“They are reviewed line-by-line and the bureau strikes any that it recognizes contains errors or are otherwise invalid,” Tracy Wimmer, the director of media relations for the Secretary of State, said.
In calling for the five candidates to be removed from the ballot, the Bureau of Elections said the campaigns submitted thousands of fake signatures. The Bureau says there were clear signs of fraud, like using the same handwriting for multiple signatures, voter names being misspelled, identical pages and even using names of deceased people.
In its report, the bureau said there were 36 petition circulators who put forward thousands of the invalid signatures.
“In total, the Bureau estimates that these circulators submitted at least 68,000 invalid signatures submitted across 10 sets of nominating petitions,” the report states.
“There was apparently nobody that was paying attention to the actual signature gatherers to make sure they were doing the job they were hired to do,” Clark said.
Republicans like gubernatorial candidate James Craig are putting blame on the signature gatherers, saying they deliberately sabotaged his and other campaigns.
“It is clear now that our campaign, along with several others, have been defrauded by these criminals,” Craig said in a statement. “Whether for political or monetary gain, these individuals must be held accountable for their actions.”
“We cannot allow something so devious to go unanswered. As our campaign continues to go through the process to get on the ballot, I urge Attorney General Dana Nessel to fully investigate those responsible for defrauding my campaign and the campaigns impacted by this intentional act,” Craig added.
John Yob, a consultant for candidate Perry Johnson, put blame on signature gatherers as well in a tweet.
“The staff of the Democrat Secretary of Staff does not have the right to unilaterally void every single signature obtained by the alleged forgers who victimized five campaigns,” Yob said.
Clark said signature fraud reaching these levels is rather unprecedented in Michigan.
“Signature election is a pretty common thing, and for this many candidates to be affected I think is a pretty big deal,” Clark said.
Clark said it’s realistic the campaigns had nothing to do with this.
“One of the things that tipped off the bureau is the fact there were similarities across campaigns,” he said. “But each campaign didn’t see those other campaigns. Each campaign only saw their only petition sheets.”
Some states ban the practice of hiring signature gatherers. Michigan does not. Clark said this could give some momentum for a ban here but it may not fix the real problem.
“When you open it up only to volunteers you still have the same sorts of problems,” he said. “You still have the potential problem of fraud. You have errors that are committed that are simply mistakes, either by the signature gatherers or the people signing the petition.”
Clark said the bureau indicated in its report that it would lay out possible fraud charges for the attorney general’s office to review. He said it’s possible some of the signature gatherers could face criminal charges under Michigan’s election law.