Dems challenge 3 Michigan GOP governor candidates’ petitions

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Democratic Party said Wednesday it challenged three top Republican gubernatorial candidates’ nominating petitions, alleging forged signatures and other issues that could keep them from qualifying for the GOP primary.

Complaints were lodged Tuesday with the Board of State Canvassers over petitions submitted by ex-Detroit Police Chief James Craig, businessman Perry Johnson and Tudor Dixon, the former host of a conservative TV news show. Michigan Strong, a super PAC tied to Dixon, filed a separate challenge alleging fraud against Craig, who has led in polling and is among 10 Republicans who turned in signatures by last week’s deadline. The primary winner will face Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the fall.

The Democratic-drafted complaint alleges that at least eight of Craig’s circulators engaged in a forging technique known as "round-robining" — in which a small group of people fakes signatures across multiple petition sheets using a list of real voters. Various signers mix in their writing styles in an attempt to fake authenticity.

More than 6,900 of his 21,000-plus signatures were obtained that way and should be invalidated, according to the filing.

If true, that would put Craig below the 15,000 valid signatures needed to qualify for the August primary ballot. The challenge also says defective circulator certificates should negate about 1,900 signatures.

"I have never seen such evidence of forgery and fraud in a petition drive in the nearly 40 years I’ve been practicing election law in Michigan," said attorney Mark Brewer.

Michigan Strong spokesperson Fred Wszolek said it was "super easy" to catch the fraud, saying sheets from one Craig circulator, for instance, all have handwriting that looks alike and were submitted in sequential order. Craig’s campaign tried filing an additional 4,200 signatures on April 19 to get more of a cushion but was 20 minutes late, he said.

Craig campaign spokesperson Marli Blackman said his campaign has "total confidence" in the signatures, calling the complaints a "last-ditch effort" by opponents who are "terrified" by his support and momentum.

The challenge against Dixon says her almost 30,000 signatures should be tossed because the petitions inaccurately say the next gubernatorial term ends in 2026 when it expires on Jan. 1, 2027.

Lawyer Steven Liedel, who brought the complaint, said while state law does not require a gubernatorial candidate to provide a term expiration date on a nominating petition, he or she cannot make false statements on the form if they do.

Dixon issued a statement calling it a "desperate, bogus challenge." Democrats, she said, "will do anything to protect Gretchen Whitmer from having to face me."

The complaint against Johnson — a self-funder who has spent more than $3 million on advertising — also alleges forgery, noting his campaign used six circulators accused of forging Craig’s petitions. One of them also collected signatures for Dixon.

"There are sufficient quality-control problems with the Johnson petitions to put his candidacy in serious doubt," Liedel said.

Johnson campaign consultant John Yob said Democrats are "scared" of Johnson’s momentum.

"Even if every absurd accusation made by the Democrats was legitimate, they still failed to challenge enough to impact his ballot access," he said. "Perry will be on the ballot and we look forward to seeing the results of the more statistically consequential challenges made of other candidates."

The state elections bureau will review the challenged candidates’ signatures and make recommendations to the bipartisan, four-member canvassing board, likely in May. Ballots are printed in June. The board typically accepts the determinations.