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Board Of Canvassers Keep Fraud-Victim Candidates Off Ballot, Lawsuits Likely

May 31, 2022

Several candidates, including five gubernatorial candidates, were ruled ineligible to be on the August primary ballot after a deadlock vote from the Board of State Canvassers regarding fraudulent signatures submitted.

James Craig, Perry Johnson, Michael Markey Jr., Donna Brandenburg, and Capt. Michael Brown, who has already dropped out, were voted down after Republican members Anthony Daunt and Norm Shinkle voted no and Democrat members Mary Ellen Gurewitzand Jeannette Bradshaw voted yes to a motion to find the candidates’ signatures insufficient. 

Candidates needed three no votes to remain on the ballot, but several didn’t get it due to forged signatures the Bureau of Elections found on the candidates’ petition signatures. Elections officials concluded that once the bad signatures were stricken, there were too few good ones to put the candidates on the ballot.

“We are disappointed in the Board of Canvassers decision, but we are not surprised the partisan Democrats on the committee ruled against Michigan voters,” Craig’s campaign said in a statement. “It is a travesty that partisans in a position to uphold democracy and the will of the people allowed politics to get in the way.  We are confident that when the law is justly applied, our campaign will be on the ballot this August.”

Elections Director Jonathan Bratersaid at the start of the day that regardless of the outcome, there would be lawsuits filed in court over whatever decision was made by the board.

“They’re going to be in the interesting position of heading to a court asking for relief with unclean hands, given the level of fraud that has occurred,” Steven Liedelsaid.

Liedel and Mark Brewer first brought the issue of possible forgery from petition circulators.

Brater informed the board that the Bureau of Elections checks the signatures. He said that if they found a legitimate signature on a petition, they were removed from the potential forgery pile. He said there were 36 petition circulators believed responsible for the fraud – 30 from one company.

The board said it would hear all arguments from the candidates and challengers before making a decision.

“Fraud is fraud,” Liedel said. “The law doesn’t distinguish between paid circulators and volunteers, because candidates, under Michigan law, are 100% responsible for vetting their signatures, running a lawful, thorough process and supervising their agents and employees who work directly and should be accountable to the candidate.”

The lawyers representing eight of the 10 candidates hit by the possible 36 petition circulators accused of forging signatures all made very similar arguments, including they didn’t have enough time to go over the petitions, they were victims and should not be punished because of that and the process itself was unfair.

“This is a goat rodeo,” Brandenburg said sitting beside her lawyer.

Lawyers also challenged the Bureau of Elections’ staff report, saying they are not handwriting experts and attorney Eric Doster, who represented Tricia Dare, said the board had previously set a “slap-in-the-face” standard regarding signatures.

Lawyers for Brandenburg and Markey argued that there were no challenges made to their candidates, but somehow, they got caught up in the fraud allegations.

Brater said they check all petitions and after the forgery allegations, they were also checking others for the same patterns.

After the board heard all the arguments, Daunt expressed concern with the possibility of having legitimate signatures tossed in with the forged signatures.

“There have been countless people sent to prison based on assumptions that seemed to be airtight at the time,” Daunt said.

The board also voted on Brown’s petitions, even though he had already dropped out.

At the end of the day, Brater reiterated that the board should be ready to be contacted by the Attorney General regarding lawsuits. 

As of 5 p.m., the only election-related suit filed was Monica Conyers’ federal suit, challenging the Wayne County clerk’s rejection of her candidacy.

Daunt said he wants to see the circulators “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

“As you saw with how things played out today, it creates massive chaos in the system and that is not healthy for our democracy, it is not healthy for faith from the voters, and it’s not ultimately healthy for the type of candidates that it attracts to run for office,” he said.

Shinkle said he felt that, not only should the circulators be put in prison, but also the person who hired them should be put in prison.

“I hope that happens, and I’ll do whatever I can to assist that,” he said, noting that whomever makes the ballot for Governor will likely play out in court.

“Now it is going there without us making a recommendation, basically a two-to-two tie.  It is probably the best way for it to happen,” Shinkle said.

Along with the five gubernatorial candidates there were three judicial candidates caught up in the forgery scam. They also would have to file a lawsuit to appear on the ballot.

Fate Of Other Candidates At The Board

The Board of Canvassers Thursday also addressed challenges against congressional candidates and gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon.

Attorney Steven Liedel argued Dixon should be thrown off the ballot because of an issue with a date in the header of her petitions.

Elections Director Jonathan Brater said the error was harmless and she would remain on the ballot.

There were seven U.S. Representative candidates that were before the Board of Canvassers for challenges made to petitions, several for errors or not having enough valid signatures to be placed on the ballot.

Gabrella Manalloche, Joseph Alphonso, Elizabeth Ferszt, Thomas Barrett, Jake Hagg, Paul Junge, and Shanelle Jacksonwere each given a turn in front of the board to prove why they should remain on the ballot.

Manalloche, who did not show, was bounced from the ballot.

Ferszt was tossed from the ballot because of an issue with a do-it-yourself sticker that appeared on the header of her petition sheets.

Barrett survived his challenges and will be on the ballot. 

Alphonso was removed for being 41 signatures short and for several technical errors.

Hagg was bounced from the ballot for being 52 signatures short after all the invalid signatures were added up.

Junge will appear on the ballot after challenges made to his use of his address and his name.

“I think everybody feels they had their day in court,” Board of Canvassers Chair Norm Shinkle said.

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