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Lansing — A state elections panel ruled seven candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives submitted nominating petitions that were insufficient to qualify them for the ballot.

The would-be lawmakers included Matthew Morgan, the lone Democrat candidate challenging GOP Rep. Jack Bergman in the 1st Congressional District race. Although Bergman won by double digits over a Democrat in 2016, the district has experienced close fall races, including a Republican incumbent Rep. Dan Benishek's victory in 2012 by half of a percentage point.

Morgan, who was disqualified because he listed the post office box for his campaign address rather than his home address, plans to challenge the decision in court, according to a campaign statement issued Friday.

“There is one thing I want to make very clear: I will be on the ballot in November,” Morgan said in the statement. “We are disappointed by the Board of Canvassers decision, but look forward to a swift legal resolution to this matter. The more than 1,500 voters who signed a nominating petition deserve to have their intentions be honored for the August primary election ballot.”

Should the lawsuit prove unsuccessful, Morgan plans to campaign as a write-in candidate in the August primary so he might automatically qualify for the November ballot.

There is no express warning against using P.O. box addresses, said Mark Brewer, Morgan’s lawyer. Even if there were, Brewer said, a recent state appellate ruling that allowed a prevailing wage repeal proposal to proceed despite circulator address inaccuracies should also allow for Morgan’s nominating petition to move forward.

“The principle established in that case applies here,” said Brewer, the former Michigan Democratic Party chairman.

Board members said the appellate decision appeared to apply only to circulator addresses, not a candidate’s address.

“People have a right to know where people live if you’re running for office,” said Democratic board member Julie Matuzak.

The board also denied a challenge to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar’s nominating petition signatures. Several people testified in support of the challenge filed by fellow Democratic governor candidate Abdul El-Sayed of Shelby Township.

the challenge on roughly 40,000 signatures was one of the largest the bureau has ever seen, said Bureau of Elections Director Sally Williams. The bureau’s recommendation to deny the challenge was based on a “very thorough approach," she said.

“We are very comfortable, we are very sure of our work here,” Williams said.

The six other U.S. House candidates whose nominating petitions were ruled insufficient Friday included:

  • Eponine Garrod and Paul Clements, both Democratic candidates for the 6th district where Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, is the incumbent. The board's decision leaves four Democrats on the primary ballot.
  • Republican Kristine Bonds and Democrat Dan Haberman, both candidates for the 11th District — where there is an open seat because Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham, is retiring. The board's decision leaves five Republicans and five Democrats on the primary ballot. 
  • Nick Schiller, a Democratic candidate for the 2nd District. His disqualification leaves Rob Davidson of Spring Lake as the only Democrat in the primary.
  • Joe Farrington, a Republican hopeful looking to challenge Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, in the 3rd District. Amash is now unopposed in the primary.

Most candidates were tossed from the ballot after Bureau of Election staffers found an insufficient number of valid signatures to meet the 1,000-signature requirement.

Canvassers debated at length Clements’ petition, which was nine short of the 1,000 signatures. More than 70 of the signatures ruled invalid on Clements’ petition involved electors who were from a city or township with the same name — such as Kalamazoo and Kalamazoo Township — but marked the wrong box to indicate which they were from.

Williams told board members that statute provides electors a safe haven if they leave the boxes blank and, over the years, the board has accepted a signature as valid if the voter marked both city and township boxes. But if a voter marked just one box and it was the wrong one, the signature was disqualified.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Republican board member Colleen Pero said.

Clements pleaded with the board to use logic in determining the validity of the signatures.

“What should really be the fundamental question here is, how do we recognize the will of the voter or the elector?” said Clements, who has lost to Upton in the past two elections.

While board members voiced support for making the rule clearer in the future, they were concerned about changing rules “mid-stream” in the election cycle. They accepted the bureau’s recommendation to toss Clements from the ballot.

After the meeting, Clements said he plans to close down his campaign. 

In a statement Friday, Haberman said he also would suspend his campaign in light of the board’s decision.  

“We are confident that, should we choose to contest the Board’s ruling in court, we will prevail,” Haberman said in the statement. “The question, however, is whether the cost of such an effort, both in time and dollars, would leave us with a path to victory in a primary field crowded with other talented candidates.”

The board also accepted recommendations from elections staff regarding challenges to six candidates running for district and circuit court judgeships, deeming four nominating petitions sufficient and two insufficient.

Among those kicked off the ballot was state Sen. Tory Rocca, a Sterling Heights Republican running for the 16th Circuit Court. Rocca’s petition had been challenged by opponent Julie Gatti, an attorney who also is running for the Macomb Circuit judgeship. Election bureau staffers found Rocca’s petition was short of the 2,000 valid signatures needed to get on the ballot.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3661

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