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Michigan Democrats accuse GOP candidates of using forged signatures to get on ballot

Lawyers working with the Michigan Democratic Party say three Republicans running for governor shouldn't be allowed on the August primary ballot.
James Craig, former Detroit Police Chief and Michigan gubernatorial candidate, talks in an informal 'fireside chat' at the Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce on April 6, 2022.
James Craig, former Detroit Police Chief and Michigan gubernatorial candidate, talks in an informal 'fireside chat' at the Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce on April 6, 2022.Gillis Benedict / Livingston Daily / USA TODAY Network file

Michigan Democrats have formally accused Republican candidates for governor of submitting forged signatures to get on the state’s primary ballot.

In a trio of complaints filed this week, attorneys working with the state Democratic Party said they found problems with the nominating petitions filed by former Detroit police chief James Craig, businessman Perry Johnson and conservative commentator Tudor Dixon — enough to disqualify all three from the Aug. 2 primary, they argue.

Fraudulent signatures were the chief complaint for Craig's and Johnson's petitions, while a paperwork error was the focus of the Dixon complaint.

Ten Republicans have lined up for the chance to run against first-term Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November.

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes called for a review of all the nominating petitions of Republican gubernatorial candidates.

“The extensive evidence of fraud and forgery found throughout the nominating petitions submitted by James Craig, Tudor Dixon, and Perry Johnson indicate not only that their irresponsible campaigns are grossly negligent, but that they are not capable of being accountable leaders,” she said in a statement shared with NBC News.

Michigan’s Board of Canvassers is responsible for certifying nomination petitions. It’s expected respond to the three complaints in May.

To get on the primary ballot, Michigan candidates needed to submit a minimum of 15,000 signatures from registered voters, including at least 100 voters in half of the state’s 14 congressional districts, by the April 19 deadline.

A 145-page complaint filed Tuesday alleges fraud in close to half of the 21,000 signatures submitted by Craig, one of the frontrunners in the GOP primary.

The complaint said some signatures appeared to come from people who are deceased, while others apparently did not match voters' past signatures on other ballot petitions.

The majority of the challenged signatures were allegedly gathered through a technique called “round-robining,” when a group of people take turns signing different names and addresses on petitions, using a list of voters. The complaint says several handwriting patterns emerged during a review of the petitions.

“I have never seen this volume of evidence of forgery,” said Mark Brewer, an attorney and former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party who led the inquiry into signatures for Craig. “We’ve got dead voters, we’ve got round-robining, we’ve got signatures that don’t match prior signatures. I think we have a very strong case against Craig.”

A PAC supporting Dixon has also reportedly filed a complaint challenging Craig’s signature petitions.

Craig's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Certain aspects of petition fraud are considered a crime: signing multiple petitions and signing nominating petitions for multiple candidates are both misdemeanors.

A complaint filed by Democratic election attorney Steven Liedel challenging the signatures submitted for Johnson, who's running on a commitment to quality, raised concerns of forgery, claiming Johnson's campaign used some of the same people hired to gather signatures for Craig. The petitions also appear to have 66 signatures from dead people, the complaint says.

Johnson's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The third complaint alleges Dixon's petitions included false information about the duration of a governor's term, as well as signatures gathered by one of the people Craig hired to collect names and signatures from dead people.

Dixon provided NBC News with a statement from the candidate calling the complaint against her a "desperate, bogus challenge."

"Simply put, Gretchen Whitmer knows I will beat her and the Michigan Democratic Party knows I will beat her," Dixon said in a statement she also posted to Twitter. "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."

A spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party said Whitmer, the only Democratic candidate in the race, had filed 30,000 signatures collected by volunteers.