Perry Johnson, GOP candidate for Michigan governor, loses key ballot ruling

A Republican candidate for Michigan governor lost a bid to get on the Aug. 2 primary ballot Wednesday in the first key court decision since election officials found campaign petitions rife with fraudulent signatures.

More: James Craig, Perry Johnson among 5 GOP governor candidates found ineligible by board

The ruling affects Perry Johnson, a wealthy businessman considered to be a leading candidate for the GOP nomination. But the decision could also apply to three other candidates, including former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who also have scratched from the GOP ballot.

Separate legal challenges were pending.

There seems to be no dispute that fraudulent signatures were turned in by paid circulators, though there’s no evidence that the candidates were aware of the scam.

They were declared ineligible last week, the result of a tie vote by the Board of State Canvassers. State election officials said Johnson, Craig, Michael Markey and Donna Brandenburg didn’t meet the 15,000-signature threshold because of fraudulent signatures.

Johnson asked the appeals court to overrule the canvassers and put him on the ballot. He said he would meet the signature threshold if the state elections bureau would examine each petition line by line.

"The board ... had a clear legal duty to investigate, but it did not have a clear legal duty to conduct a comparison of each fraudulent signature against the qualified voter file," the appeals court said in a 3-0 opinion.

Five other Republican candidates landed a ballot spot, including Tudor Dixon, a former conservative TV news host who has the backing of Betsy DeVos, who was head of the U.S. Education Department during the Trump administration.

The winner will face Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the fall.