LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — The governor’s race is taking a drastic turn.
Five candidates from the Republican field of 10 are off the August primary ballot, at least for now.
The Board of Canvassers deadlocked, which blocks the candidates due to insufficient petition signatures, including front-runners Perry Johnson and former Detroit Police Department Chief James Craig.
The political landscape in Michigan looks much different than it did Wednesday.
The GOP campaigns for governor argued their cases Thursday in front of the board, while the state’s elections director laid out how the campaigns have fallen short of the 15,000 signatures each one needs because of fraud.
Now, the campaigns will have to go to court if they want votes come August.
That vote carried through all five GOP gubernatorial candidates after the Michigan Bureau of Elections determined fraudulent signatures were turned in by their campaigns.
It's left James Craig, Perry Johnson, Michael Brown, Michael Markey Jr. and Donna Brandenburg off the August primary ballot.
“This is not a mix of good signatures that are mixed in there with bad ones. These circulators committed fraud. They used the names of people who were not registered or were registered and they forged their signatures. This is not a mistake. These circulators knew they were doing this. They did this deliberately,” Michigan Director of Elections Jonathan Brater said.
With 68,000 fraudulent signatures found of which were checked against the state's voter files, that leaves doubt, according to some on the Board of Canvassers. Joining the campaigns in arguing that all 68,000 need to be checked.
“My gut tells me that these are probably fraudulent, but the burden of proof is on the government to reject the rights of Michigan citizens and I cannot base these important decisions on assumptions,” Tony Daunt, a Republican canvasser said.
“I still don’t know how many of his signatures were checked. So, we’re in a position where we don’t know what we don’t know. Nineteen out of 9,879? That is one-tenth of 1%,” said George Lewis, Craig's campaign attorney.
Mark Brewer, who signed the challenge against the Craig campaign, called Craig’s characterization that he’s a victim of the circulators absurd, saying the people of the state don't ask for 15,000 genuine signatures.
“It seems that anyone who wants to be governor of Michigan should be able to manage that without employing dozens of forgerers who submitted dozens of forgeries,” said Brewer. “What message would this board send if you allow candidates with forged signatures to be on the ballot.”
The split board, two Republicans and twp Democrats, did not reach a consensus. So the five candidates are off the ballot and will have to file a lawsuit to try and get back on.
The Craig campaign is doing just that, releasing a statement that reads in part:
“We will be filing an immediate appeal in the courts. We are confident that when the law is justly applied, our campaign will be on the ballot this August.”
But time is running out. The elections director says June 3, next Friday, is the deadline for a decision.
Another front runner, Tudor Dixon, was approved to be on the ballot for the August Primary.
The elections bureau’s findings have been turned over to the attorney general’s office for a criminal investigation into the fraudulent circulators.