Will three Michigan GOP gov. candidates accused of forging signatures make it on the ballot?

By: - May 11, 2022 4:24 am

GOP gubernatorial candidates who have had their nominating petition signatures challenged (L-R): Tudor Dixon, Perry Johnson and James Craig | Photos from the Dixon campaign, Andrew Roth and Allison R. Donahue

After a long two years of disproven conspiracy theories around voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election pushed by far-right Republicans, three GOP gubernatorial candidates are now under the microscope as they face allegations of forged signatures on nominating petitions. 

As of last month, 10 Republicans filed to run in the Republican August primary.  Whoever wins will run against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the November general election. 

All 10 candidates submitted more than the 15,000 signatures necessary to get on the ballot. However, Democrats and a superPAC supporting one of the GOP candidates have brought forward concerns about the submitted signatures for former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, right-wing commentator Tudor Dixon and businessman Perry Johnson. 

Other candidates include chiropractor Garrett Soldano, businesswoman Donna Brandenburg, Michigan State Police Capt. Mike Brown, the Rev. Ralph Rebandt, former Allendale Township Planning Commissioner and Jan. 6 insurrection participant Ryan Kelley, financial advisor Michael Markey Jr. and businessman Kevin Rinke.

GOP gubernatorial candidates (clockwise): Ryan Kelley, Donna Brandenburg, Ralph Rebandt, Garrett Soldano, Kevin Rinke Michael Markey Jr. and Mike Brown | Campaign photos

Accusations of forgery, including signatures from dead Michiganders and mismatched signatures, are among the top reasons for challenging the gubernatorial hopefuls’ petitions. 

“It’s very disheartening to listen to these candidates and their attacks on the integrity of our elections when they themselves have had difficulties submitting proper petitions before the Board of [State] Canvassers,” said Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, a Democrat.

Byrum, a former House Elections Committee chair, is referring to the ongoing unfounded conspiracies about massive voter fraud in Michigan that former President Donald Trump supporters say cost him the election against President Joe Biden. In Michigan, Biden beat Trump by more than 154,000 votes.

After hundreds of audits across Michigan showed that there wasn’t the voter fraud that many Republicans claimed, now some of those Republicans are faced with similar claims against them. 

Here’s what is being challenged for each of the three candidates:

James Craig

James Craig, the former Detroit police chief, filed 21,000 signatures on April 18, but a challenge filed by attorney Mark Brewer said the number of valid signatures Craig filed falls below the 15,000 signatures required. 

Brewer, a former Michigan Democratic Party chair, is alleging that eight petition circulators working for Craig’s campaign “forged or permitted forgery” of 6,933 signatures on 710 petition sheets. 

Attorney Mark Brewer | Nick Manes

The alleged forgery likely happened through a method known as “round-robining,” which is when a group of people sequentially sign a petition and pass it on to the next person for them to sign it with a forged voter’s name. 

Brewer also alleges that Craig’s 40 petition sheets containing 158 signatures have defects in the petitions headings, and Craig’s petitions state the upcoming gubernatorial term ends in 2026. The term actually ends in 2027.

Other issues include at least 195 people who signed Craig’s petitions who are not registered voters, 311 duplicate signatures for either Craig or another candidate, 30 signatures from deceased voters, 1,895 defective circulator certificates and 130 defective signatures. 

Another challenge against Craig comes from a superPAC supporting Dixon. This challenge, though less detailed than Brewer’s, argues that they found enough invalid signatures that there is reason that would put Craig below the 15,000 signature threshold. 

Craig did not respond to a request for comment. 

Perry Johnson

Perry Johnson, a multimillionaire who has dubbed himself as the “quality guru” for Michigan, also is facing allegations of forged signatures on his petition. 

Johnson filed 22,700 signatures on April 19. 

A complaint filed by attorney Steven Liedel, who served as legal counsel for Democratic former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, states that at least six of the eight circulators who are accused of forging signatures for Craig also circulated petitions for Johnson. 

Those six circulators submitted a total of 343 petition sheets. 

Other issues that challengers allege with Johnson’s submission include at least 66 signatures from deceased people, at least 98 duplicate signatures. 334 signatures duplicated on petitions circulated by other gubernatorial candidates, at least 8 signatures from non registered voters, 163 signatures that do not match the signatures on file, 239 petition entries that have incorrect address or jurisdiction information and at least 230 entries with a date error. 

Johnson did not respond to a request for comment. 

Tudor Dixon

A glaring mistake in the petition headings for right-wing commentator Tudor Dixon might cause her to be knocked off the ballot, said Liedel. 

Dixon’s petitions state the gubernatorial term ends in 2026, which Liedel argues “could mislead voters” and asks that all of Dixon’s petitions be rejected.

Dixon called this a “desperate, bogus challenge.”

It's very disheartening to listen to these candidates and their attacks on the integrity of our elections when they themselves have had difficulties submitting proper petitions before the Board of (State) Canvassers.

– Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum

“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,” Dixon said in a statement. “We will easily defeat this phony challenge and greatly look forward to forcing Governor Whitmer to answer for the death and destruction she has caused.”

Dixon filed 29,735 signatures, just below the state’s maximum limit of 30,000, on April 19. Of the Republicans who filed to run for governor, Dixon submitted the most signatures. 

But the petition headings weren’t the only inaccuracies Liedel says he found. 

The challengers found that the Dixon petitions include at least 25 apparent signatures from dead people.

Additionally, one of the circulators alleged of forging signatures for Craig also circulated petitions for Dixon. Challengers are asking that all of the petitions circulated by that person be rejected. 

Susan J. Demas

What’s next?

Forgery is a crime, so if the circulators are found guilty of forging signatures, they could be held accountable. 

But are there consequences for the candidates?

“[The candidates] should be held accountable. These are agents of the candidates,” said Liedel. “They did file affidavits of candidacies claiming, as part of those affidavits, that they filed x number of valid signatures.”

There’s a provision of the state election law that states that the Board of State Canvassers could refuse to certify candidates if their campaign violates the election law. 

“So regardless of whether they have a sufficient number of petitions or not, if there’s significant fraud, the board does have the authority to remove the candidate from the ballot, essentially,” Liedel said. 

That decision won’t come until the end of the month when the Board of State Canvassers holds their meeting on May 26, which is expected to be a lengthy all-day meeting. 

If the staff report states that the candidates should not be put on the ballot, there are three options for them: end their campaign, challenge the Board’s decision before the ballots are printed in June or attempt to mount a write-in campaign.


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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8.