Aaron J. Thornton/Getty; Facebook James Craig (left), Perry Johnson
Half of the Republicans running for governor of Michigan have been disqualified from the ballot after state elections officials said they submitted fraudulent signatures on their petitions. After a deadlocked vote by the bipartisan Michigan Board of State Canvassers, the candidates were deemed ineligible for the ballot. Now, at least three of them are fighting to get back in the race.
Among those disqualified were former Detroit Police Chief James Craig and businessman Perry Johnson, who had been considered among the top candidates for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November.
In Michigan, candidates for governor are required to submit 15,000 valid signatures from registered voters by April 19 in order to see their names on the August primary ballot.
According to the Michigan Bureau of Elections, the campaigns for Craig, Johnson and three others running in the Republican primary had "submitted fraudulent petition sheets consisting entirely of invalid signatures."
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Bureau staff said it began reviewing candidates' nominating petitions at the end of March and noticed a large number of petition sheets "appeared fraudulent."
The Bureau's findings included "an unusually large number of petition sheets that showed no evidence of normal wear that accompanies circulation," "sheets on which every instance of the handwriting of certain letters across different signature lines and sheets, including in the signatures themselves, was near-identical," and "sets of sheets where the two or three distinct handwriting styles appeared on multiple sheets."
According to the report, many of those findings indicated that the petition sheets had been "round-tabled," a practice in which a fraudulent signature gathering firms will use a group of individuals to pass around the sheets, with each person signing one line on each sheet, "in an attempt to make handwriting and signatures appear authentic and received from actual voters."
Facebook Perry Johnson
Now, Craig, Johnson and another candidate — Michael Markey — have filed lawsuits in a last-ditch effort to get back on the Aug. 2 ballot, ABC12 News reports.
An attorney for Craig chalked the allegedly fraudulent signatures up to "the potential efforts of a group of circulators to defraud the campaign," but said in his complaint filed with the Michigan Bureau of Elections, "it is our belief that the petition remains valid," Detroit News reports.
The attorney added that "a signature comparison will likely show that the circulators did not write in a sufficient number of false signatures to erase the comfortable cushion of supporters amassed by the campaign."
A consultant for Johnson's campaign described the situation similarly, alleging on Twitter that the five Republicans disqualified from the ballot had been "victimized" by "alleged forgers."
"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," the consultant added.
The news about the gubernatorial ballot comes on the heels of an announcement by the Michigan Department of State that 11 candidates had been disqualified from running in a Republican primary for the state Senate "because of false statements regarding the candidate's compliance with the Michigan Campaign Finance Act."
Carone allegedly had made false statements on a required affidavit submitted to election officials. On one of the forms Carone signed, she indicated that she didn't have any unpaid fines and that her campaign filings were all current, The New York Times reports, but Carone allegedly owed at least $125 in late fees for missing campaign filing deadlines.
"This is how our elected officials keep good candidates from getting elected," Carone told the Times in an interview earlier this month. "I'm going to fight it. Even if I don't end up on the ballot, my voice will be heard. I'm not going anywhere."