Perry Johnson asks federal judge to cease printing of Michigan primary ballots

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Republican Perry Johnson asked a federal judge Monday to order the Michigan Secretary of State's office to "immediately cease the printing of August 2022 primary ballots" as he made a last-ditch effort to get back into the race for governor.

Johnson, a businessman from Bloomfield Hills, was one of five GOP candidates for the state's top office who were booted from the ballot because of a wave of fraudulent petition signatures that state officials said left the candidates below the minimum 15,000 valid signature requirement.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Perry Johnson and his wife, Diane, walk toward the Michigan Department of State office in downtown Lansing to submit petition signatures in hopes of making the August primary ballot.

On Friday, the Michigan Supreme Court, in 6-1 rulings, upheld the moves of the Bureau of Elections and the Board of State Canvassers to keep the five candidates off the ballot. The rulings apparently spurred Johnson's filing Monday in U.S. District Court for Michigan's Eastern District.

Johnson's lawyer, Eric Esshaki, a former U.S. House candidate himself, argued that state elections officials had violated Johnson's right to seek public office without due process by "unlawfully denying" him "access to the ballot without providing him with an opportunity to be heard in a meaningful manner."

"Mr. Johnson will suffer immediate and irreparable harm because defendants’ unconstitutional enforcement of the statutory signature requirements under the circumstances makes it impossible for him to get his name on the Aug. 2, 2022, Republican primary ballot," Esshaki wrote in the filing.

Johnson, through his attorney, asked the court for a temporary restraining order barring the state from enforcing the 15,000 signature threshold. The court should require the Secretary of State's office to cease the printing of ballots for the primary until the motion is decided, Esshaki contended.

A self-described "quality guru," Johnson had already spent millions of dollars of his own money on his campaign for governor.

The Bureau of Elections on Friday sent out the official candidate list to local clerks, setting in motion the process of formatting and printing ballots for the Aug. 2 primary.

The gubernatorial candidate list included only those candidates who were certified by the Board of State Canvassers last week, said Tracy Wimmer, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office.

The 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 of a large swatch of the signatures appeared to be forged.

The bureau said it believed 36 petition circulators "submitted fraudulent petition sheets consisting entirely of invalid signatures." The bureau said it was "unaware of another election cycle in which this many circulators submitted such a substantial volume of fraudulent petition sheets consisting of invalid signatures."

The Board of State Canvassers deadlocked May 26 on whether the five GOP candidates should be on the ballot. The board's 2-2 votes meant the candidates' petitions could not be certified to appear on the Aug. 2 primary ballot. 

Republican candidates challenging the decision have argued that the bureau should have examined each and every signature for validity instead of relying on a spot check of about 7,000 of the 68,000 alleged forgeries.

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.