Perry Johnson can’t appear on GOP primary ballot for Michigan governor, appeals court rules

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The Michigan Court of Appeals unanimously dismissed a legal challenge by Perry Johnson, a former GOP candidate for Michigan governor, who was one of five Republicans disqualified from the ballot because of invalid signatures on their nomination petitions.

Wednesday’s decision means Johnson can’t stand in the Aug. 2 primary ballot, and it likely doesn’t bode well for other potential candidates – including former Detroit Police Chief James Craig and the businessman Michael Markey – who had filed similar legal challenges to try to continue their campaigns.

Johnson’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. A representative for Craig’s campaign declined to comment on Wednesday, saying they would when a decision on their own case was made.

In a May 23 report, the Michigan Elections Office found that five GOP candidates for the gubernatorial nomination were ineligible to appear on the primary ballot because they submitted thousands of invalid signatures on their nomination petitions. State investigators identified 36 people who circulated petitions for their campaigns “who submitted fraudulent petition sheets consisting entirely of invalid signatures,” the office said.

Democrats slammed the findings as “evidence … of a massive forgery scheme,” while the campaigns for Johnson and Craig presented themselves as victims of signature collectors who fraudulently circulated their petitions without their knowledge.

For five of the 10 GOP candidates, the fraudulent petition sheets meant they fell below the 15,000 valid signature threshold required to appear on the ballot. Those deemed ineligible included Johnson, Craig, Markey, Donna Brandenburg and Michael Brown, who immediately withdrew from the governor’s race.

Last Thursday, the Board of State Canvassers, made up of two Democrats and two Republicans, met to discuss the Elections Office report and blocked a decision, resulting in the disqualification of all five candidates for the ballot.

In a Posting on Twitter, Brandenburg said she had been “illegally removed” from the ballot and asked for donations to “help her fight against this”. Johnson, Craig and Markey then filed suit in the appeals court, arguing that all signatures on their petitions should be reviewed individually.

In its decision Wednesday, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the Board of State Solicitors did not have a “clear legal obligation” to verify each signature against the Qualified Voters Register.

“Similarly, given that the Council had the discretion not to verify each of the signatures submitted by the Fraudulent Query Broadcasters, the act Johnson seeks to compel the defendants to perform is not ministerial in nature,” says decision. “Because Johnson bears the burden of demonstrating his right to the writ sought … we find that his failure to demonstrate that the act sought is ministerial and his failure to demonstrate a clear legal obligation on the part of the Council are fatal to his claim.”

Disqualifications and legal challenges rocked the Republican primary race for Michigan governor two months before the August primary – and reports of petition signing fraud come as former President Donald Trump relentlessly perpetuates the debunked and baseless claim that widespread voter fraud cost him his re-election in 2020.

The other five GOP gubernatorial candidates are Tudor Dixon, Ryan Kelley, Ralph Rebandt, Kevin Rinke and Garrett Soldano. The family of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos endorsed Dixon last week. The Republican candidate will face Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D), who is seeking a new term.

Johnson said he shared Trump’s “concern about election security” and attended a fundraiser with the former president for a fellow Republican at Mar-a-Lago in March. Craig sought to distance himself further from Trump’s voter fraud allegations, but said he would support a “thorough audit” of the 2020 election results and accept Trump’s endorsement if offered.

The elections office said it had no reason to believe any specific candidates or campaigns knew their petitions were circulating fraudulently, but recommended disqualifying five of them based on whether a candidate reached or not the 15,000 signature threshold after removing invalid signatures. of their petitions.

According to the elections office, Craig’s campaign submitted 11,113 invalid and 10,192 “facial valid” signatures, while Johnson’s campaign submitted 9,393 invalid signatures and 13,800 facially valid, leaving them both below the threshold. required.

The bureau’s investigation also found that the Brandenburg campaign had submitted 11,144 invalid and 6,634 facially valid signatures; Brown’s campaign submitted 13,809 invalid and 7,091 apparently valid signatures; and Markey’s campaign submitted 17,374 invalid and 4,430 facially valid signatures.

The elections office noted that this level of fraud — both in the number of invalid signatures submitted and the number of campaigns affected — was unprecedented. Some of the fraudulent petition sheets tended to show “no evidence of normal wear and tear” or showed evidence of having been “roundtabled”, a practice in which each person in a group takes turns signing a line of a petition in an effort to make the signatures appear genuine, the office said.

Alice Crites contributed to this report.


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