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State: Candidate's successful filing is new evidence that should stay new, extended rules

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The state of Michigan has appealed a federal judge’s ruling on candidate filing requirements to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and asked the federal judge to stay his order after the congressional candidate who filed the lawsuit met the requirements he challenged. 

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg ordered the state to extend the candidate filing deadline to May 8 and accept nominating petitions that met 50% of the signature requirement due to the difficulties of collecting signatures in the midst of a pandemic. 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Berg also ordered the state to develop a way for congressional and judicial candidates to collect signatures electronically.

But Eric Esshaki, a Republican candidate for the 11th Congressional District who had filed the lawsuit, submitted his nominating petition to the Secretary of State’s office by the Tuesday deadline with roughly 1,200 signatures, a little over the 1,000 signature threshold. 

Esshaki’s submission should be considered new evidence, enough to warrant a stay in the judge’s order while the state’s appeal processes through the Sixth Circuit, Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office argued in a Wednesday motion.  

Berg scheduled a hearing for Thursday to hear arguments for and against the motion to stay.

Esshaki “had been collecting signatures during the time frame covered by the stay-at-Home orders,” the motion said, and he “had also been successful in collecting a significant number of signatures by mail.”

“In other words, plaintiff met the very requirements from which he sought relief from this court,” the motion said. 

Nessel’s office asked Berg to rule by Friday and at least suspend the portion of his order that lowered the signature threshold by half. 

“Time is of the essence because defendants’ requests for relief, if successful, impact the number of signatures candidates will be required to file by May 8, 2020 in order to appear on the August 4, 2020 primary election ballot,” the motion said. 

Esshaki on Wednesday said he was able to surpass the 1,000 signature threshold because of an "outpouring of support" from individuals who mailed signed petitions after reading about the lawsuit.

But the last minute arrival of the signatures didn't provide an opportunity for vetting so it's possible some signatures could be thrown out on technicalities. 

Besides, the court win Monday "was not just for me," Esshaki said. "It was for the Constitution."

"The attorney general is targeting me because I won in court," he said. "I think they’re angry…and trying to hide that they’re actions were unconstitutional.”

U.S. House candidates such as Esshaki had until Tuesday to collect and file 1,000 signatures from registered voters to have their names appear on the Aug. 4 primary ballot, but Esshaki argued it was next to impossible to collect those signatures for much of the collection period because of the stay-home order. 

Esshaki is seeking to run against incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills. 

Judicial candidates have their own petition thresholds to hit, which vary depending on what office the candidate is seeking. Two non-incumbent candidates for judge recently joined Esshaki's lawsuit.

Most state House candidates pay a nominal filing fee in lieu of signatures and would not be overly affected by Berg’s decision

As of 6 p.m. Friday, two U.S. Senate candidates — U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and Republican John James of Farmington Hills — and 34 U.S. House candidates — including 12 incumbents running for re-election — had filed signatures, according to state records.

Republican Whittney Williams, one of two other GOP candidates in the 11th district who have filed signatures, has argued the deadline shouldn't be changed.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com