Hanson: What to know about fraudulent petitions for 5 gubernatorial candidates in Michigan

May 25, 2022

Five Republican candidates for governor in Michigan failed to file enough valid nominating signatures and should not qualify for the August primary election, according to state election officials. 

Two University of Michigan experts, Michael Traugott, an emeritus research professor of political studies, and Jonathan Hanson, a lecturer in statistics for public policy, discuss where things stand, what it all means and where this might be headed. He was also featured in a news item by WNEM, in which he stated, "This is an unusual amount of fraud in the collection of signatures."

“The fact that these candidates were not able to get a relatively modest amount of signatures, 16,000 signatures out of millions of voters, is indicative of the idea that it’s pretty easy to run for office,” Hanson said.

What exactly happened?

Traugott: As a matter of the integrity of our election administration system in Michigan, the law sets up requirements for a minimum number of signatures to gain access to the ballot. The purpose of this requirement is to demonstrate broad public support for a candidate, numerically and by geography. There is a date by which signatures were to be submitted, and they were reviewed by the director of elections in the Secretary of State's office for authenticity and validity as well as number. 

In the past, a candidate's campaign volunteers often obtained the signatures, but increasingly candidates have turned to commercial firms who pay people to gather signatures. These employees are typically paid for each signature, and their work is not well supervised in the field. On occasion, these individuals duplicate or forge signatures. 

The review in the Bureau of Elections has found that five candidates have either submitted an insufficient number of signatures and/or invalid signatures. As a result, the candidates will not have their names appear on the ballot.

The problem reflects badly on the ability of a candidate to organize a successful campaign for office, in that the leadership they chose to run the campaign failed to organize an effective signature gathering campaign. This might be in terms of the firm they hired or the checks they conducted on the work that they performed along the timeline for signature gathering.

Hanson: Rather than gather signatures on their own, the campaigns for these candidates hired outside firms to run the signature-gathering effort. It appears that the people hired by these firms faked thousands of signatures, and the campaigns did not do sufficient quality control or verification of signatures themselves. 

The Bureau of Elections discovered the fraud as part of the usual process for verifying whether these were valid voter signatures. The system, in other words, worked.

What's at stake?

Traugott: The decision by the Bureau of Elections, to be confirmed by the Board of Canvassers on Thursday, means that the Republican primary field will be reduced from 10 to 5 candidates, including the two leading candidates being eliminated. There is not any likely effort to reverse the decision.

Hanson: Five GOP candidates, including two of the leading candidates, will not be on the primary ballot. This helps clear the path for the remaining five candidates.

Where might things go from here? 

Traugott: The candidates may make an appeal to the Board of Canvassers, but their arguments will be weak and unlikely to succeed. While they can argue that they were cheated, the staff only reviews the legality of the petitions and signatures that were submitted. It is impractical to argue that the Secretary of State should vet the firms that offer the signature gathering service as a matter of preclearance.

Hanson: Assuming that the Board of Canvassers does not override the finding of the Bureau of Elections, the only remaining option for the five candidates would be to try to fight the decision in court. It does not seem very likely this would be successful. Campaigns that rely on grassroots volunteers to collect signatures did not have these kinds of problems. Perhaps future campaigns will learn from this incident. 

Some Republican nominees fail to file enough valid signatures to qualify for primary, WNEM, May 24, 2022