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Half of Michigan GOP candidates challenging Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — including presumed front-runner — may be disqualified from ballot

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Emily Elconin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Michigan Republicans may be facing disaster after half of their 2022 candidates for governor were declared ineligible for the ballot Monday, including presumptive front-runner James Craig.

The Michigan Bureau of Elections on Monday found that Craig, the former Detroit chief of police, businessman Perry Johnson, and three others did not submit enough valid petition signatures to qualify for the GOP primary ballot — potentially cutting a field of 10 candidates down to just five lesser-known individuals seeking to unseat Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

State law provides that candidates for governor must submit at least 15,000 signatures, and 100 from each congressional district, to qualify for the primary ballot. Candidates are permitted to submit up to 30,000 signatures for review.

According to the Detroit News, a bureau staff report said election officials tracked 36 petition circulators "who submitted fraudulent petition sheets consisting entirely of invalid signatures." The bureau was "unaware of another election cycle in which this many circulators submitted such a substantial volume of fraudulent petition sheets consisting of invalid signatures."

The bureau reportedly estimated that these circulators submitted at least 68,000 invalid signatures across 10 sets of nominating petitions. "In several instances, the number of invalid signatures submitted by these circulators was the reason a candidate had an insufficient number of valid signatures," the report said.

Craig, viewed as the front-runner for the GOP nomination, was found to have turned in 11,113 invalid signatures, including 9,879 signatures from "fraudulent petition circulators." Of the 21,305 signatures his campaign turned in, only 10,192 were found to be "facially valid," falling short of the required 15,000.

Johnson, the wealthiest candidate in the race, was found to have submitted 9,393 invalid signatures and 13,800 valid ones, falling short of the requirement.

“Michigan’s petition process is fatally flawed because it easily allows criminals to victimize candidates for public office and their thousands of supporters who legitimately sign petitions,” Johnson said in a campaign statement Monday. “We must bring quality to the petition process by allowing campaigns a mechanism to compare signatures that are gathered by circulators with signatures on the Qualified Voter File to ensure their legitimacy.”

“Criminals are able to defraud campaigns and their thousands of supporters by submitting signatures of questionable legitimacy to be included with legitimate signatures,” Johnson added. “Criminals can commit fraud for money or by purposely infiltrating a victimized campaign with illegitimate signatures in a machiavellian attempt by the opposing party to later have them removed from the ballot. Unfortunately, the signatures provided to campaigns cannot currently be checked until after their submission to the Secretary of State. This needs to change, immediately.”

Craig told Detroit Free Press reporter Paul Egan that he hopes Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel will open a criminal investigation of fraudulent signatures.

"I do believe this was a well-planned and orchestrated effort to get me off the ballot," Craig said. "I'm being robbed of the opportunity ... to let Michigan voters decide who should represent the GOP," he added.

The findings of the elections bureau are a recommendation made to the Michigan Board of State Canvassers and are not a final decision. The board will vote on Thursday, May 26, on which candidates have enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Candidates Garrett Soldano, Kevin Rinke, Ryan Kelley, Tudor Dixon, and Ralph Rebandt were found to have enough valid signatures to qualify.

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