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Federal judge won't halt ballot printing as Perry Johnson seeks place on August ballot

Beth LeBlanc Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

A Detroit federal judge on Monday denied Republican Michigan gubernatorial hopeful Perry Johnson's request for an immediate halt to the printing of ballots so the Bloomfield Hills businessman could try to overturn a state ruling keeping him off the August primary ballot. 

The decision, which came 10 days before absentee ballots were set to become available, significantly diminished the already improbable chance that Johnson, a self-described "quality guru" caught up in a wave of fraudulent petition signatures, will be able to get back in the primary race.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith said the Bureau of Elections had used a "deliberate and objective methodology" to determine more than 6,000 signatures believed to be fraudulent caused Johnson to fall short of the 15,000 threshold needed to qualify for the ballot.

Goldsmith noted that the bureau cross-checked 1,405, or 20%, of the more than 6,000 signatures submitted by suspected fraudulent petition circulators for Perry's signature requirement. All of those checked were found to be fraudulent, the judge said.

"This court sees nothing arbitrary or capricious about (the Bureau of Elections') able handling of a dire and time-sensitive threat to election integrity," wrote Goldsmith, an appointee of former President Barack Obama. 

Bloomfield Hills businessman Perry Johnson lost another court fight Monday in his bid to get placed on the Aug. 2 Republican primary ballot for governor.

The Detroit judge's order denied Johnson's request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, noting an order to include Johnson on the ballot would require counties to "reprint hundreds of thousands of ballots" and jeopardize their ability to get them printed in time, especially given reported shortages of paper. 

"Johnson has had many opportunities to identify the issue of fraud infecting his nominating petition and to mount a defense to his disqualification well in advance of his June 6 commencement of this action," Goldsmith said. 

In his Monday order, the judge did grant Johnson an expedited hearing on his challenge. It wasn't immediately clear when the hearing would occur.

But Goldsmith said Johnson "failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits" of his claims that his constitutional rights had been violated.

The federal order Monday comes after Johnson was also denied placement on the ballot by the Michigan Supreme Court, which concluded Johnson's challenge had "nothing here meriting our further time or attention." 

On Monday, Lavora Barnes, chairwoman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said the courts "showed sub-quality Perry Johnson he can’t outrun or outspend personal responsibility for the mass fraud committed by his campaign."

Without the go-ahead from the federal court, Johnson's options are limited, said Steven Liedel, a Lansing attorney with the Dykema law firm whose practice areas include election law.

Liedel said on social media that Johnson could launch a write-in campaign, collect 12,000 new signatures to qualify as an independent candidate or seek nomination from a minor party before Aug. 2. Liedel also is the attorney for a woman who challenged Johnson's signatures and sought to intervene in the federal suit. 

As recently as Thursday, Johnson said a statewide write-in campaign would be "very, very difficult" and would cost about $22 million. Johnson disclosed to The Detroit News that he has poured $7 million of his personal fortune into his campaign for governor.

Former Detroit police Chief James Craig, who was also disqualified from the August ballot because of fraudulent signatures, announced last week he would launch a write-in campaign for the Republican nomination for governor.

Two other candidates caught up in the fraudulent signature ring — Grand Haven financial adviser Michael Markey and Michigan State Police Capt. Mike Brown — bowed out of the race. Byron Center entrepreneur Donna Brandenburg was denied consideration by the Michigan Supreme Court on her challenge of disqualification.

The Michigan Bureau of Elections on May 23 released reports indicating the five candidates for governor hadn't submitted the required 15,000 valid petition signatures needed to appear on the August primary ballot because thousands of signatures appeared to be forged.

State elections officials concluded 36 petition circulators "submitted fraudulent petition sheets consisting entirely of invalid signatures." 

The Board of State Canvassers deadlocked May 26 on whether the five candidates should appear on the August primary ballot, meaning the candidates' petitions were not certified for the ballot.

The remaining five candidates for governor who secured the needed signatures to appear on the August primary ballot are pastor Ralph Rebandt of Farmington Hills, chiropractor Garrett Soldano of Mattawan, businessman Kevin Rinke of Bloomfield Township, real estate broker Ryan Kelley of Allendale and conservative commentator and businesswoman Tudor Dixon of Norton Shores.

Also Monday, Brown endorsed Rinke for the Republican nomination for governor.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

cmauger@detroitnews.com