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Lansing — Michigan gubernatorial hopeful Abdul El-Sayed said Tuesday he is turning in roughly 24,000 voter signatures to the state, making him the first Democratic candidate to officially file for the August primary ballot.

The signatures were “scrubbed and verified” to ensure validity and “collected by love,” according to El-Sayed, who told The Detroit News his campaign has 2,500 active volunteers and 300 interns across every major college campus in the state.

“We’ve shown what people power can do,” the Shelby Township resident and former Detroit health commissioner said in an interview ahead of his filing at the Michigan Secretary of State headquarters in downtown Lansing.

“In fact, it’s the only thing we think can really change our politics right now,” El-Sayed said. “It really means a lot to us to be the first Democrat to submit our signatures.”

Gubernatorial candidates must submit at least 15,000 valid voter signatures to make the ballot and can file up to 30,000 as a buffer to ensure certification.

Republican obstetrician Jim Hines of Saginaw was the first candidate from either major party to qualify for the primary after submitting 22,575 signatures in June 2017. He utilized paid circulators. El-Sayed relied on volunteers, as did Republican state Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton Township, who filed more than 18,000 signatures in January.

Several other gubernatorial candidates are expected to file by the April 24 deadline, including Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.

Among Democrats, former State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing has collected about 20,000 valid signatures and is aiming for the maximum 30,000, according to her campaign. Ann Arbor entrepreneur Shri Thanedar’s campaign has collected “more than 30,000” signatures and is validating them to be turned in by April, he said in a statement. Former police officer and retired Xerox executive Bill Cobbs said he is aiming to turn in 30,000 signatures closer to the deadline.

Sending volunteers around the state to collect signatures is a great way to grow support, said Whitmer spokeswoman Annie Ellison. “We’re not going to artificially stop our process because we’re getting such a positive response. We built this apparatus, and we’re going to keep using it.”

El-Sayed, who announced his campaign in February 2017, said he saw “no reason” to wait until the April deadline. Submitting signatures now will allow his campaign to focus more on canvassing, getting out the vote and “getting people excited about what’s possible in politics,” he said.

While he is poised to qualify for the primary ballot, El-Sayed has faced questions over eligibility for the 2018 general election after Bridge Magazine reported he was registered to vote in New York while attending graduate school and working as a professor.

The Michigan Constitution requires candidates for governor to be registered electors in the state for at least four years prior to the election, but El-Sayed reportedly was registered in New York from October 2012 through at least March 2015. He also was continuously registered in Michigan but put on a cancellation countdown status” between 2013 and 2016, according to the state.

The Michigan Democratic Party last month asked El-Sayed to seek a court opinion on the matter. He said Tuesday he will “take whatever steps necessary” to prove his eligibility “as those steps present themselves.”

“I know that I’m eligible,” El-Sayed said. “At the end of the day, I’ve been registered to vote in Michigan since I was 18 years old. I’ve been a resident of Michigan since I was a kid. Any suggestion otherwise that I’m not eligible is politically motivated.”

A self-described “progressive” who has courted supporters of 2016 Michigan presidential primary winner U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, El-Sayed faces a tough path to the Democratic nomination.

Whitmer leads early polls of the race, has outraised peers and recently won the coveted endorsement of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. Thanedar has already pumped nearly $6 million of his own money into his campaign and is running television ads that have helped boost his name identification.

“Our campaign was always about ideals and ideas,” El-Sayed said, going on to criticize those likely primary opponents. “We’re not taking corporate bribe money from the likes of insurance companies that want to keep us without health care, and we’re not trying to buy an election to call ourselves progressive.”

Michigan voters will decide the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial nominees in party primaries on Aug. 7. The general election to replace term-limited GOP Gov. Rick Snyder is set for Nov. 6.

The Michigan Secretary of State maintains an online list of primary candidates that is updated as candidates file signatures or meet other requirements to make the ballot. Find it at michigan.gov/sos.

joosting@detroitnews.com

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