DETROIT — The Michigan Court of Appeals kept two Republican candidates off the Aug. 2 primary ballot Wednesday, declaring that election officials suspecting signature fraud had no obligation to examine campaign petitions line by line.
The court first ruled against Perry Johnson, a wealthy businessman considered to be a leading candidate for the Republican nomination, and then applied the 12-page decision to investment adviser Michael Markey.
The opinion would seem to doom the chances of former Detroit Police Chief James Craig and entrepreneur Donna Brandenburg, who were also barred from the ballot last week.
There appears to be no dispute that fraudulent signatures were turned in by paid circulators, though there’s no evidence that the candidates were aware of the scam. In a court filing, attorneys representing the Board of State Canvassers called it an “unprecedented situation.”
The candidates were declared ineligible as the result of a tie vote by the board. State election staff said Johnson, Craig, Markey and Brandenburg didn’t meet the 15,000-signature threshold because of fraudulent signatures.
In Johnson’s case, about 7,000 were put in the scam column. Election staff found dead voters on his petitions, misspelled names and some signatures with first names but only a last initial.
Johnson asked the appeals court to overrule the canvassers and put him on the ballot. He said he would meet the signature threshold if the state election bureau would examine each line. Only 20 percent of the 7,000 signatures were compared to signatures in the qualified voter file.
“The board ... 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,” the appeals court said in a 3-0 opinion.
Five other Republican candidates landed a ballot spot, including Tudor Dixon, a former conservative TV news host who has the backing of Betsy DeVos, who was head of the U.S. Education Department during the Trump administration.
The winner will face Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the fall.