Oakland County businessman and GOP gubernatorial hopeful Perry Johnson should not appear on the ballot for the upcoming August primary election, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.
Johnson, who poured millions into a governor bid that was launched in February, is the first of three disqualified Republican governor candidates who filed challenges to get a decision from a court.
In their opinion, Court of Appeals Judges Kristen Kelly, Michael Kelly and Noah Hood disagreed with the Johnson campaign’s assertion that the Michigan Board of State Canvassers had an obligation to compare every signature submitted with the state’s Qualified Voter File.
“The Board (of State Canvassers), therefore, had a clear legal duty to investigate, but it did not have a clear legal duty to conduct a comparison of each fraudulent signature against the qualified voter file,” judges wrote. “Likewise, because the Board had the discretion to not check each and every signature submitted by the fraudulent-petition circulators, the act Johnson is seeking to compel defendants to perform is not ministerial in nature.”
“Because Johnson bears the burden of demonstrating his entitlement to the requested writ … we conclude that his failure to show that the act requested is ministerial and his failure to show a clear legal duty on the part of the Board are fatal to his claim .”
The court’s decision follows a marathon meeting of the Board of State Canvassers last Thursday when the state’s elections panel deliberated whether to disqualify Johnson and several others after the GOP gubernatorial candidates’ signatures were thrown into question due to an alleged forgery scheme.
The board deadlocked on the matter along party lines.
Friday marks the deadline under state law to finalize the names of candidates for the primary election, and clerks must send out ballots to military and overseas voters on Jun. 18.
Michigan elections director Jonathan Brater described the signature fraud identified by the Bureau of Elections an unprecedented “attack on our election system” at last week’s meeting. And in a series of consecutive votes on the sufficiency of each candidates’ nominating petition to qualify for the ballot, the board radically reshaped the upcoming primary in a matter of minutes.
The impasse wiped out half of Michigan’s GOP primary candidates for governor in a field that until last week, was the largest in the state’s history, according to the Michigan Information and Research Service.
Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig and Grand Haven financial adviser Michael Markey have also filed lawsuits challenging their removal from the primary ballot. Another disqualified candidate, Donna Brandenburg, has also reported intent to file a legal challenge.
More:Disqualified Republican governor hopefuls battle it out in court
To qualify for the ballot, candidates needed to collect at least 15,000 voter signatures. Brater said that the Bureau of Elections carried out a targeted review of about 7,000 voter signatures on petition sheets from circulators who appeared to have forged voter signatures.
“We did not find a single registered voter with a matching signature for any of those circulators for any candidate of the ones we looked at,” Brater said at last week’s canvassers’ meeting. “If we found even a small number that looked legitimate, we took them out of the fraudulent signatures category.”
Petition circulators submitted at least 68,000 invalid signatures, Brater said.
Johnson argued in his lawsuit that the bureau was required to compare every signature submitted on candidates’ petition forms to the signature contained in the state’s voter registration database.
Prominent Michigan Democrats and Republicans alike have called the alleged signature forgery scheme one of the largest in Michigan’s history and have criticized the GOP gubernatorial candidates for appearing to fail in exercising oversight over their contractors’ signature-gathering operations to qualify for the ballot.
The Board of State Canvassers certified five GOP gubernatorial candidates for the upcoming primary. They include Norton Shores businesswoman Tudor Dixon, Ottawa County real estate agent Ryan Kelley, Farmington Hills pastor Ralph Rebandt, Bloomfield Hills businessman Kevin Rinke and Kalamazoo chiropractor Garrett Soldano. Michigan State Police Capt. Mike Brown withdraw from the race before the board met to review candidates’ nominating petitions to qualify for the ballot.
Clara Hendrickson fact-checks Michigan issues and politics as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-296-5743. Follow her on Twitter @clarajanehen.