James Craig campaign: Claims of fraudulent petition signatures 'troubling'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — An attorney working on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidate James Craig labeled claims the former Detroit police chief submitted thousands of fraudulent petition signatures "troubling" but said they weren't enough to keep him off the ballot.

"Despite the potential efforts of a group of circulators to defraud the campaign, it is our belief that the petition remains valid," lawyer Edward Greim wrote. "That is because most of the technical challenges fail, and a signature comparison will likely show that the circulators did not write in a sufficient number of false signatures to erase the comfortable cushion of supporters amassed by the campaign."

Former Detroit police chief James Craig, candidate for governor, speaks at the North Oakland Republican Club meeting at Overtyme Grill in Waterford, Mich. on Apr. 28, 2022.

Greim of Missouri made the comments in a Monday filing with the Michigan Bureau of Elections. His seven-page letter was meant to serve as a formal response to two high-profile challenges against Craig's petition signatures.

The deadline for such responses was 5 p.m. Friday. The Bureau of Elections will share the information about the missed deadline with the Board of State Canvassers, and the board will decide whether to accept it, said Tracy Wimmer, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State's office.

Craig, whom some see as the front runner in the 10-candidate race for the GOP nomination for governor, turned in about 21,000 signatures on April 18. Candidates need 15,000 valid signatures to make the ballot.

The Democratic Party found "obvious forgery affecting thousands of signatures to hundreds of entire sheets invalidated by defective headings and circulator certificates to signatures from dead voters," according to its challenge to Craig's signatures.

Mark Brewer, a longtime Michigan elections lawyer and former chairman of the state Democratic Party, said Craig's "petitions fall well short of providing the necessary 15,000 valid signatures necessary to qualify for the primary election ballot."

In his challenge, Brewer claimed eight petition circulators had "forged or permitted the forgery" of 6,933 signatures. He alleged they used a strategy of "round robining," in which multiple signature gatherers forge signatures on multiple petitions sheets to try to cover up the tactic.

"I have never seen such evidence of forgery and fraud in a petition drive in the nearly 40 years I have been practicing election law in Michigan," Brewer said during a press conference.

Michigan Strong, a political action committee supporting Republican Tudor Dixon's bid for governor, also challenged Craig's signatures.

Fred Wszolek, spokesman for Michigan Strong PAC, said his group had identified hundreds of duplicate signatures, "a lot of unregistered voters" and other problems with the former Detroit police chief's petitions.

In his response Monday, Greim said the fraud alleged by Brewer "seems to have been carried out in a sophisticated manner and is not verifiable without comparing voter signatures and addresses to those contained within the qualified voter file."

It "seems unlikely that even a coordinated effort to defraud the campaign will succeed," he added.

"Contrary to the argument raised by the Brewer challenge, an allegation of fraud does not end the inquiry or cause a mass rejection of signatures; instead, as a matter of law, it starts the review," Greim said. "It triggers the duty to conduct a comparison of each allegedly fraudulent signature against the qualified voter file."

Each signature should be judged on its own merit, Greim wrote. There is no authority for the "en masse invalidation of signatures, valid and fraudulent alike, merely because a circulator defrauded the campaign with respect to some signatures," he contended.

"Although Brewer’s allegation that a handful of circulators defrauded the Craig campaign and Michigan voters is troubling, the proof will ultimately be found in a careful comparison between petition and qualified voter file," Greim said.

Greim mistakenly referred to Craig as "Chief Clark" twice in the last paragraph of his response.

"For the foregoing reasons, the majority of the challenges should be rejected and Chief Clark should appear before the voters in the primary," he wrote in the last sentence.

The Board of State Canvassers, which has two Democratic and two Republican members, must complete its examination of candidates' petition signatures by May 31.

Democrats have challenged the signatures of Dixon, Craig and businessman Perry Johnson in the GOP race for governor.

"The challenge was a complete waste of government resources because it did not include enough challenged signatures to impact ballot access," said John Yob, a consultant working on Johnson's campaign, on Wednesday.

The winner of the Aug. 2 Republican primary race will face Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November.