GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An investigation by Michigan’s election bureau found thousands of fraudulent signatures among multiple campaigns. It says five Republican candidates did not get enough valid signatures on their nominating petitions.
The bipartisan Board of State Canvassers will meet Thursday to consider the elections bureau’s recommendations.
Gubernatorial candidates Donna Brandenburg, Michael Brown, James Craig, Michael Markey and Perry Johnson did not file enough valid signatures, the bureau said. That’s half of the 10 candidates vying for their party’s nomination.
The reports issued late Monday by staff are a major blow to former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who has led in polling, and businessman Perry Johnson, who has spent millions of his own money to campaign.
Signatures from Republican gubernatorial candidates Craig and Johnson were all challenged by Democrats. Tudor Dixon also challenged a significant number of Craig’s signatures.
Dixon’s signatures were also contested by Democrats. The bureau says she filed enough valid signatures.
The GOP gubernatorial primary is Aug. 2. The general election is Nov. 8.
19 CANDIDATES DON’T HAVE ENOUGH SIGNATURES
The reports found that a total of 19 candidates did not have enough signatures, including judicial candidates and four U.S. Representative candidates, the report says. Eight of those candidates are Republican, one is a Democrat and 10 are nonpartisan.
The Democrat is Joseph Alfonso, the only Democratic candidate in the 4th Congressional District. He needed 1,000 signatures. The bureau determined only 959 of the 1,027 signatures he submitted were valid.
If the Board of State Canvassers follows the bureau’s recommendation and determines Alfonso does not qualify then Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, will run unopposed in both the primary election and the general election.
The other three of the congressional candidates found to be short signatures are Elizabeth Ferszt in the 5th District, Jake Hagg in the 7th District and Gabriella Manolache in the 3rd District.
INVESTIGATION FOUND FRAUD
The state launched the investigation after tips from citizens about fraudulent signatures, challenges from democrats and challenges by some republican candidates.
The bureau found that 36 petition circulators, some working to collect signatures for multiple campaigns, submitted at least 68,000 invalid signatures across at least 10 campaigns.
“All petition sheets submitted by these circulators displayed suspicious patterns indicative of fraud, and staff reviewing these signatures against the Qualified Voter File (QVF) did not identify any signatures that appeared to be submitted by a registered voter,” the report says.
Staff with the elections bureau said although it is typical to see some fraudulent signatures submitted, the bureau was “unaware of any other election cycle in which this many circulators submitted such a substantial volume of fraudulent petition sheets.”
Issues the bureau found include signatures from voters who have not lived at the address listed for years, misspellings, voters who have died, and handwriting characteristics — like “Flint” written with a lower-case “f” and the dot over the “i” written as a circle” — repeated in multiple signatures.
It also found “virtually identical” petitions sheets for two different judicial candidates.
It also found “roundtabled sheets” where “they circulated petition sheets among themselves, each filling out a line,” the report says. On some sheets, “alternating lines were filled out by different colored pens to convey randomness. However, similar handwriting is clear across sheets and especially when the lines completed in a certain color are considered together.”
The report found that more than 10,000 of 21,113 signatures Craig submitted were forged and 9,393 of Johnson’s signatures were forged.
The candidates were likely not aware of the fraudulent petitions, the report says.
“At this point, the Bureau does not have reason to believe that any specific candidates or campaigns were aware of the activities of fraudulent-petition circulators,” it says in the report.
— News 8’s Whitney Burney and The Associated Press contributed to this report.