GOP gov. candidate Johnson seeks federal restraining order to halt printing of Aug. 2 ballots

By: - June 7, 2022 11:51 am

Republican gubernatorial candidate Perry Johnson attends a Republican gubernatorial in Howell on May 13, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

In a last-ditch effort to get back onto the ballot for Michigan governor, GOP businessman Perry Johnson has requested a federal judge issue a restraining order to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office to “immediately cease the printing of August 2022 primary ballots.”

Johnson was among five Republican candidates for governor who were tossed off of the ballot after the Bureau of Elections (BOE) released a report last month detailing an “unprecedented” number of fraudulent signatures. 

That ruling was then upheld when the Board of State Canvassers (BSC) deadlocked along party lines, prompting Perry and several other candidates to turn to the courts for relief.

Craig on getting booted from ballot over fraudulent signatures: ‘Not going to let this go’

However, that relief has so far not been forthcoming. An initial appeal by Perry to the Michigan Court of Appeals was unanimously rejected, followed by a 6-1 decision by the Michigan Supreme Court on Friday that upheld the previous decisions that Johnson, along with financial adviser Michael Markey and former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, could not appear on the ballot. The court did not rule in businesswoman Donna Brandenberg’s suit. 

A fifth candidate, Michigan State Police Capt. Michael Brown, dropped out of the race rather than seek legal action.

Apparently seeking a different outcome, Johnson, a self-described “quality guru,” on Monday turned to the U.S. District Court for Michigan’s Eastern District, filing suit against the BSC, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Michigan Bureau of Elections Director Jonathan Brater.

“Defendants’, through secretive processes, deceptive practices, and on nothing more than whims of fraud, drastically changed the Bureau of Elections Procedures (“BOE Procedures”) for canvassing petition signatures,” alleges the filing, which says the decision left Johnson only 1,200 signatures short of the required 15,000 signature threshold to have his name printed on the ballot.

“Defendants attempted to justify the changes to the BOE Procedures based on several novel, inconsistent, trivial, and wholly arbitrary data points,” added the filing.

Johnson’s lawyer, Eric Esshaki, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a Republican in 2020, further argued that his client would “suffer immediate and irreparable harm because defendants’ unconstitutional enforcement of the statutory signature requirements under the circumstances makes it impossible for him to get his name on the Aug. 2, 2022, Republican primary ballot.”

The suit seeks an immediate judgment holding the signature threshold requirements as unconstitutional as well as a temporary restraining order preventing their enforcement. It further requests that the court either lower the threshold requirement or place Johnson’s name on the primary ballot. And finally, it asks that an order be entered requiring the Secretary of State to immediately cease the printing of primary ballots until Johnson’s motion for a temporary restraining order is decided.

Tracy Wimmer, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office, declined comment on the lawsuit when asked by the Michigan Advance, citing a policy of not speaking about ongoing litigation.

There are currently five GOP hopefuls on the Aug. 2 ballot: Far-right activist Ryan Kelley, businessman Kevin Rinke, right-wing media personality Tudor Dixon, chiropractor Garrett Soldano and the Rev. Ralph Rebandt. 

The winner of the GOP primary will face Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Nov. 8.

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King is the Senior Reporter for the Michigan Advance and has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2022 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell.