Michigan Democrats want review of signatures submitted by GOP Senate candidates (2024)

The Michigan Democratic Party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Friday asked state election officials to investigate whether three Republican U.S Senate candidates and another who has left the race submitted forged or otherwise fraudulent signatures on nominating petitions they submitted.

The Free Press obtained a copy of the letter submitted by lawyers for the groups and a Michigan voter, Emily Judd, to the Board of State Canvassers. It said an "initial review" into petitions submitted by former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, former U.S. Reps. Justin Amash and businessman Sandy Pensler, as well as those submitted by former U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer, who has since left the race, showed "patterns that indicate the presence of potential forgery andother fraudulent signature gathering tactics."

If an investigation is conducted and any of the candidates were found to have less than 15,000 valid signatures, they could be taken off the Aug. 6 primary ballot for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan.

The Democratic groups issued statements and released the letter at about the same time the Free Press' story published online Friday afternoon. Michigan Democratic Party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes said, "The apparent fraud uncovered demands an immediate investigation" and that the state Bureau of Elections and the canvassing board "should uphold their responsibility to protect the integrity of Michigan’s elections and conduct a full, thorough examination."

Rogers' campaign spokesman, Chris Gustafson, called the letter an "antidemocratic stunt" pulled by allies of U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, of Holly, the Democratic front-runner for the Senate nomination and noted that she is facing a petition signature challenge of her own.

Pensler adviser Stu Sandler also roundly criticized the request, saying, "Democrats can't beat Republicans at the ballot box so it looks like they're trying to eliminate Republicans from the ballot."

"Sandy Pensler turned in over 26,000 signatures. He clearly qualifies for the ballot which is why no timely challenge was filed," he said. The deadline for challenging petition signatures passed at the end of last month.

If the claims of possible fraud were investigated and found to be true, it could have a huge effect on the Senate race. Rogers is considered the GOP front-runner, having gotten the endorsem*nt of former President Donald Trump. If all of the candidates whose signatures Democrats question were to be left off the ballot, it would leave west Michigan physician Sherry O'Donnell, the least known Republican candidate, to still be running for the open seat.

Meijer told the Free Press that his campaign spent a huge effort validating signatures but acknowledged the difficulty of catching every potentially questionable sheet or signature given the numbers involved. He said he supports the state attorney general and the Michigan State Police investigating complaints of wrongdoing by circulators or candidates but also said this letter could be Democratic groups "muddying the waters" ahead of the primary.

The Democratic groups said they included Meijer in their request so that the board could examine "the full extent" of the potential fraud, since he used some of the same petition gatherers as the others. Meijer left the Senate race shortly after submitting his signatures for the ballot last month.

The groups said as many as 433 pages of signatures from random samples of the four candidates' nominating petition sheets involved more than 20 petition gatherers, or circulators, who are part of other petition challenges filed against two judicial candidates — Matthew Ackerman and Lisa Marie Neilson, both running for the state Court of Appeals — in the last month.

All of those sheets — 192 for Pensler, 140 for Amash, 82 for Rogers and 19 for Meijer — could include as many as 10 signatures each. But the groups said that only represents a sample of the total number of sheets that could be involved for each campaign, suggesting it is "just the tip of the iceberg."

"Given the indications of potential fraud revealed by our initial review, we request that the Board immediately conduct a thorough investigation of the nominating petitions submitted by Mr. Rogers, Mr. Pensler, Mr. Amash, and Mr. Meijer for suspected fraud," said the letter, which was signed by lawyer Christopher Trebilco*ck, of Detroit, and members of the Elias Law Group in Washington.

The evidence cited by the Democratic groups as potentially showing fraud include:

  • Entire petition sheets submitted by candidates with signatures from different signers that appear to be in the same handwriting.
  • Sheets which purport to be signed by the same circulator but with different handwriting being used for her signature and mistakes in her address and ZIP code.
  • Duplicate voter signatures found in nominating petition sheets that purport to be from the same voter but appear to be in different handwriting.
  • The same voter signing for different candidates but with different handwriting.
  • Petition sheets submitted for different Senate candidates that "look nearly identical" in terms of the voters who signed them.

The lawyers said many of the patterns mirrored those uncovered in 2022 when five Republican gubernatorial candidates were disqualified from the primary ballot after submitting fraudulent signatures. The question of the propriety of petition signatures has continued to roil Michigan politics this year, as well, with a Wayne County election officials issuing a report on Thursday saying former state Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, didn't file enough valid signatures in his challenge of U.S. Rep. Shri Thaendar and should be barred from the August primary ballot.

The Democratic request to the Board of State Canvassers isn't a formal challenge because the deadline had passed. But the letter said it's the board's "statutory duty to canvass all petitions submitted," considering the patterns the groups say they found. "If, after that investigation, the Board determines that any of the candidates have not submitted the required number of valid petition signatures, those candidates should not be certified for the ballot," said the lawyers.

Contact Todd Spangler: tspangler@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter@tsspangler. Staff writer M.L. Elrick contributed to this story.

Michigan Democrats want review of signatures submitted by GOP Senate candidates (2024)


Is Michigan Senate red or blue? ›

As of 2023, Democrats hold the majority in the Senate with 20 seats; Republicans hold the minority with 18 seats. Under the Michigan Constitution, the Lieutenant Governor of Michigan serves as President of the Senate, but may only cast a vote in the instance of a tie.

Who is the head of the Michigan Democratic Party? ›

Lavora Barnes is the party's current chair. She was previously the party's Chief Operating Officer.

What political party is Michigan? ›

The politics of Michigan, a competitive state that leans Democratic in presidential elections, are divided.

How much does a senator make in Michigan? ›

Senator Salary: $71,685; additional amounts for leadership positions Senator Expenses: $900 per month for lodging/meals/misc.

How many years can a Michigan senator serve? ›

The Senate consists of 38 members who are elected by the qualified electors of districts having approximately 212,400 to 263,500 residents. Senators are elected at the same time as the governor and serve 4-year terms concurrent with the governor's term of office.

Was Michigan ever Republican? ›

Michigan joined the Union in January 1837. The state voted primarily Republican in presidential elections until the Great Depression. From the 1930s through the 1960s, the state alternated periodically between the two parties.

How many Republicans are in the House in Michigan? ›

Michigan House of Representatives
Minority LeaderMatt Hall (R) since January 11, 2023
Political groupsMajority Democratic (56) Minority Republican (54)
24 more rows

Does Michigan have any Republican congressmen? ›

Current members

The delegation has a total of 13 members, with 7 Democrats and 6 Republicans.

Are Michigan senators Republican or Democrats? ›

In January 2023, Democrats took the majority with 20 seats to Republicans' 18 seats.

Is the Michigan Senate democratic? ›

Democrats currently control both U.S. Senate seats, seven of 13 of the U.S. House congressional delegation, the minimum majority in both houses of the Michigan Legislature, and all statewide offices.

Is Michigan House red or blue? ›

Michigan House of Representatives
Political groupsMajority Democratic (56) Minority Republican (54)
Length of term2 years
AuthorityArticle IV, Section 3, Michigan Constitution
Salary$71,865/year + expenses
24 more rows

Who is the senator of Michigan right now? ›

Michigan was admitted to the Union on January 26, 1837. Its current U.S. senators are Democrats Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters.

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