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About half of the Republican campaigns for Michigan governor are in question

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In Michigan, there's drama surrounding the August primary. The state's elections bureau said about half of the Republican candidates vying to be the next governor should not be on the ballot because of fraud. Michigan Public Radio's Colin Jackson explains what happened and potential next steps.

COLIN JACKSON, BYLINE: New reports from Michigan election staff allege signature fraud and other issues were a big enough problem to push five of the campaigns below the 15,000-signature threshold to qualify for the ballot. But Michigan Department of State spokesperson Tracy Wimmer says the reports aren't the last say.

TRACY WIMMER: These reports are just that - recommendations. Final determinations will be made by the Board of State Canvassers on Thursday.

JACKSON: That's an independent bipartisan group appointed by the governor. Many campaigns typically hire companies to help them meet the signature threshold. The reports note paid gatherers made as much as $20 per signature on average, due to competition and a lack of in-person events.

Republican Michael Brown ended his campaign after news of possible fraud broke.

MICHAEL BROWN: I saw that there was fraudulent circulators that had worked on my petitions early and then went to another company on the money grab and did some alleged illegal activity.

JACKSON: Criminal charges are possible for those who submitted sheets that contained rows of similar handwriting, sometimes only switching gel pen colors. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says her office is waiting on a referral from the Bureau of Elections.

DANA NESSEL: It is our expectation that we likely will, given the circumstances of what occurred during the submission of these signatures.

JACKSON: The reports say there is no reason to believe campaigns were aware of fraud. Yet the scope of the problem is startling to some political observers. Zach Gorchow of Gongwer News Service Michigan wonders why more candidates didn't submit the maximum number of signatures allowed.

ZACH GORCHOW: You're always going to have some invalid signatures, people who aren't registered voters, or maybe they signed another governor candidate's petition before yours so they don't count. That's standard.

JACKSON: Despite that, litigation is still likely.

For NPR News, I'm Colin Jackson in Lansing.

(SOUNDBITE OF TINGVALL TRIO'S "SEVILLA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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