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Perry Johnson takes ballot case to federal court after losing in Michigan

Perry Johnson
Metro Detroit businessman Perry Johnson ran for Michigan governor as a “quality guru,” but his campaign was ensnared by a fake signature scandal. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)

June 13: Judge rejects Perry Johnson’s request to stop printing Michigan ballots

LANSING — Republican gubernatorial hopeful Perry Johnson wants a federal judge to "immediately cease" printing of Michigan primary ballots so his name can be added, despite a signature fraud scandal that has derailed his campaign.

The 11th-hour request comes three days after the state's legal deadline to finalize the primary candidate list for the Aug. 2 primary and follows Michigan Supreme Court rejection of ballot access lawsuit by Johnson and two other GOP candidates.

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The new federal lawsuit claims the Michigan Bureau of Elections "unlawfully" changed petition review practices to "arbitrarily invalidate 6,983" of Johnson's signatures without double checking each against a state database known as the Qualified Voter File.

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As a result, the state should either put Johnson's name on the ballot or lower its 15,000 signature threshold, argued attorney Eric Esshaki, a former congressional candidate who successfully sued to reduce 2020 signature requirements because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Michigan Supreme Court – including Republican-appointed justices – on Friday rejected similar lawsuits by Johnson, former Detroit Police Chief James Craig and Grand Haven financial adviser Michael Markey. The state concluded the trio combined to submit tens of thousands of forged signatures on nominating petitions.

The unprecedented fraud scandal — attributed to paid circulators now under criminal investigation — has halved the GOP primary field competing to take on incumbent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. There are now five GOP candidates.

Johnson, a self-described "quality guru" from Bloomfield Hills, has been the biggest spender in the race. Craig had led all polls.

In an affidavit accompanying his new lawsuit, Johnson said he and his campaign had reviewed signatures prior to submitting them, in accordance with state guidance, and would have collected more had they known the Michigan Bureau of Elections would create a new review process to invalidate entire sheets submitted by fraudulent circulators. 

If left off the ballot, "I will not be able to run for office and I will have lost substantial amounts of money," Johnson said in the sworn statement. 

As of Monday afternoon, the Michigan Supreme Court had not yet ruled on a fourth ballot access lawsuit filed by Byron Center businesswoman Donna Brandenburg, who is also accused of submitting signatures from the fraudulent circulators. 

In an affidavit, Elections Director Jonathan Brater acknowledged his bureau created a new review method after discovering what appeared to be obvious forgeries, invalidating an estimated 68,759 forged signatures across ten different sets of petitions. 

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State staffers visually inspected each petition, and then checked 6,876 of the suspected forgeries against versions in a state database. It did not find a single match and concluded all were fakes, Brater said in the affidavit. 

But some of those signatures that were not double-checked could actually be valid, according to Johnson's attorney, who is asking the federal courts for a restraining order to stop the ballot printing process. 

Under state law, local clerks must print absentee ballots and make them available to military and overseas voters by June 18. Five days after that, absentee ballots must be available to all voters, as required under the Michigan Constitution.

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