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James Craig accused of gathering fake signatures in bid to make Michigan ballot

James Criag
Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig declared himself the candidate to beat in the 10-person Republican primary to determine who goes on to challenge Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for re-election. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

May 24: GOP vows fight to keep candidates on Michigan ballot. ‘This is far from over’
May 23: James Craig, Perry Johnson, three others shouldn’t make GOP ballot, state says
May 11: James Craig seeks to stay in Michigan governor race, says campaign ‘defrauded’
May 5: 'Massive forgery scheme’ claims rock Michigan elections, governor’s race

LANSING —Michigan Republican gubernatorial hopeful James Craig may not have collected enough valid signatures to qualify for the August primary ballot, according to Democrats and a group supporting one of his GOP rivals.

In a series of signature complaints filed late Tuesday, the Michigan Democratic Party also asked the Bureau of Elections and Board of State Canvassers to give additional scrutiny to nominating petitions filed by GOP gubernatorial hopefuls Perry Johnson and Tudor Dixon. 

The most serious allegations, however, center around Craig, the former Detroit police chief who has led early polls of the GOP gubernatorial race but, like all candidates, has not yet been guaranteed a spot on the ballot. 

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"Michigan statewide elections have never seen a set of petitions as flawed as those of James Craig," attorney Mark Brewer, former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, wrote in a 145-page complaint filed with the state on Tuesday. 

Among other things, Brewer provided examples of what he called "obvious forgery" on 6,933 signatures, and he argued another 1,895 signatures filed by the Craig campaign should be invalidated because of defective circulator certificates. 

Craig last week submitted 21,000 signatures, but Democrats are challenging a total of 9,652, including 30 from allegedly dead voters. 

Michigan requires 15,000 valid signatures to qualify for the August primary, so if the challenges are successful, Craig would fall below that threshold.

Michigan Strong, a super PAC supporting Dixon, also reviewed Craig's nominating petitions and urged mass invalidation, challenging more than 7,000 of his signatures. 

“The combination of incompetence, invalidity, unregistered voters, and apparent fraud means that there is a strong probability that Craig submitted insufficient signatures to qualify as a Republican candidate for governor — and it’s likely that the Craig campaign knows it,” Michigan Strong spokesperson Fred Wszolek said in a statement. 

Craig's campaign downplayed the challenges.

“This is a last-ditch effort by our opponents who are terrified by chief’s overwhelming grassroots support and momentum,” spokesperson Marli Blackman wrote in an email. “We have total confidence in the signatures we submitted, and we look forward to defeating Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer this fall.”

Craig is among ten Republican candidates who have filed at least 15,000 signatures in order to qualify for the August primary. The winner will take on Whitmer, a Democrat who last month filed 30,000 petition signatures, the maximum allowed under state law. 

In dropping off nominating petitions last week at the Michigan Secretary of State headquarters in Lansing, Craig called himself "the candidate to beat" in the GOP primary but acknowledged his campaign had initially been slow to collect signatures, prompting a late dash to the finish line. 

“I’m a neophyte,” Craig told reporters. “I’ve never run for political office. So there are things about this work that I don’t know. Had I known what I know now, I probably would have started getting petitions signed in July of last year.”

Michigan strong, the super PAC supporting Dixon, alleges that Craig's campaign tried to file an additional 4,200 signatures last Tuesday but missed the state's 4 p.m. deadline by 20 minutes. 

The former police chief's initial filing contained several petitions from the same circulator and in sequential order with signatures that are supposed to be from individual voters but appeared to have identical handwriting, Wszolek told Bridge Michigan. 

"By submitting them this way, it was super simple for us to catch it," he said. "Bonkers."

Democrats say they identified at least eight petition circulators for the Craig campaign who allegedly forged signatures using what is called a "round robin" technique, each signing one name per petition sheet before passing it to another circular to do the same. 

"A small group of people can fill many petition sheets using this technique," Brewer wrote in the complaint, which asks the bipartisan Board of State Canvassers to invalidate the signatures. 

Canvassers will ultimately determine whether to certify candidate petitions. The board has not yet set a hearing date to consider the new challenges.

Dems challenge Johnson, Dixon too

Democrats are also alleging Johnson and Dixon should be kept off the ballot because of anomalies on their petitions. 

Johnson used six of the eight paid circulators accused of the "round robin" technique on Craig petitions, and they appear to have used the same strategy to forge signatures for Johnson, according to attorney Steven Liedel, who filed the complaint Tuesday. 

The Johnson campaign, which filed 22,700 signatures last week, allegedly turned in at least 66 from voters who are listed in the state's Qualified VoterFile  as being deceased, according to the complaint.

One supposed signer said in a sworn declaration that she never signed the petition. 

That “demonstrated to us an apparent pattern of fraudulent activity that's further exacerbated by the number of duplicate signatures” filed by the campaign, said Liedel, who was chief legal counsel to former Gov. Jennifer Granholm. 

Democrats are “clearly scared of Perry Johnson’s momentum,” and the challenge is a non-starter, said campaign strategist John Yob. 

“Even if every absurd accusation made by the Democrats was legitimate, they still failed to challenge enough to impact his ballot access,” Yob said in a statement. “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 Democratic challenge to Dixon’s signatures focus on an apparent error in the header of her nominating petitions. The campaign indicated she was running for a term that ends in 2026, but under the Michigan Constitution, the gubernatorial term will actually end on the first day of 2027. 

That’s a “fundamental flaw” that could keep her off the ballot, Liedel argued, comparing the petition error to a mistake made by Democratic congressional candidate Matt Morgan in 2018. Morgan was kept off the ballot that year after listing a P.O. Box on his nominating petition instead of a street address. 

“The inaccurate, misleading and false information” included in the header of  “every petition filed by the Dixon campaign violates the Michigan election law and voids those petitions,” Liedel said. 

Dixon, who turned in 29,735 petition signatures, called the challenge a “desperate, bogus” attempt by Democrats to keep her off the ballot. 

“They will do anything to protect Gretchen Whitmer from having to face me,” Dixon said in a statement. “Fortunately for Michiganders, this bogus petition challenge will fail and I will continue to champion what is true and what is right for Michigan families.”

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