Petition signature questions dog Detroit councilman Andre Spivey

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A veteran Detroit politician couldn't get enough voters to sign his petition to get on the Michigan ballot.

City Councilman Andre Spivey came very close to becoming and ex-Detroit city councilman, and if election officials had caught on to Spivey's scheme, his council career could have ended a year ago.

Andre Spivey: "You still here? you've been here all day."

M.L. Elrick: "We'll wait all day for the truth."
Spivey: "Good."
Elrick: "Why won't you talk to us about your bogus petitions?" 

Andre Spivey doesn't want to talk about his nominating petitions, those boring old pieces of paper that every candidate must get signed to get on the ballot.

Elrick: "Sir, why won't you just talk to us? Why are you so afraid?"

To understand why the councilman is so reluctant to talk, you have to go back one year to April 20th, 2017, to be exact.

That was the day Spivey learned he did not submit enough valid petition signatures to get on the ballot. So instead of letting his city council career end so ignominiously, Spivey withdrew from the race.

But Spivey still wanted a third term on council, so he didn't give up. With only five days left until the deadline to get back into the race, Spivey claims he placed his fate in the hands of 82-year-old Barbara Herron.
And, if you believe Spivey's records, Ms. Herron knocked on doors for four days straight, collecting more than 400 signatures for Spivey. That seemed like an awful lot of signatures for one person to collect in so little time, but I'm no expert in these matters, so I turned to someone who is.

"Four-hundred signatures in four days would be extremely strenuous," said Mark Grebner.

Grebner is with Practical Political Consulting and one of the most respected campaign consultants in Michigan. 

"There must have been more than one person involved," Grebner said.

Grebner helped expose the petition fraud that ended Congressman Thaddeus McCotter's career and led to criminal charges against several of McCotter's staff members back in 2012.

To get on the ballot, Spivey needed 300 signatures from registered voters who live in his district. Grebner does not believe that Barbara Herron collected more than 400 petition signatures for councilman Spivey in just four days.

"Unless she is just super human and is doing things that no one else has ever accomplished," Grebner said, "then she didn't really witness all of these signatures." 

I was skeptical, too, so I did some door knocking of my own.

We contacted more than two dozen people who signed Spivey's petitions. No one denied signing the petitions, though not everyone remembered doing so - after all, it was a year ago. 
But a third of the people I spoke to had something in common.

"Someone came up asking if I wanted to sign a petition for Andre Spivey to be on the ballot," said one woman. "And it was a guy, he was probably in his late 40s."

They said they never saw Barbara Herron.

Elrick: "Is there any chance this is the woman who took your signature?"
"No. no, it was not her," the woman said.
Elrick: "No doubt in your mind?"
"No doubt," she said.

Almost anyone can be a circulator, which is just a fancy name for someone who collects petition signatures. Each petition page takes up to 12 signatures and requires a circulator's signature.

The rules for circulators are simple: You must be 18; you must be a United States citizen; and you must be present when someone signs their name to the petition you are circulating.

One more thing: it is against the law to say you witnessed someone sign a petition when you did not. Ms. Herron wouldn't say whether she circulated the petitions.

Elrick: "Can we talk to you about these petitions?"

Barbara Herron: "Get off my property."

Ms. Herron, who is Spivey's great-aunt, wouldn't answer any of my questions, but I know who collected some of those signatures.

"I remember speaking with Mr. Spivey, having a discussion with him about the city and whatnot," said Alfreda McCoy-Gater. "And so I went on ahead and signed it, after what he said." 

Elrick: "So it was Mr. Spivey personally who took your signature?"
"Yes," Gater said.

Elrick: "Who took your signature?"
"Councilman Spivey, he came to my house on a Sunday afternoon," said Sharon Sklar. 

Elrick: "No doubt in your mind?"

"Oh, no, no doubt in my mind," Sklar said. "It was Andre. We know each other."

That is what's so odd about this story; it would have been perfectly legal for Spivey to sign as circulator on petition pages with signatures he collected. But his name does not appear as circulator on any of the pages, so I wanted to give him a chance to explain ...

Spivey wouldn't give me an appointment, so I went to city hall to make my own. I waited for hours, and a lot of people wanted to talk to me - just not the councilman. 

"Thanks, and read the letter," Spivey said.

The councilman was so proud of his letter that I couldn't wait to open the envelope.

The letter, written by lawyer, mostly talks about how great Spivey is, it also says campaign workers "were given clear instructions to follow the rules in obtaining petition signatures..." 

If that's true, my reporting indicates that the candidate himself did not follow those instructions. But the lawyer's letter basically says it doesn't matter, because it's too late to do anything.

Citing state election law, Spivey's lawyer wrote: "A complaint would have had to filed, in writing, on May 2, 2017 to be lawfully considered."

I should note that I live in Spivey's district and I take some comfort that, even though he won't take the time to meet with me, he still cares about his constituents.

"It's cold outside. you shouldn't stay outside so long like this," Spivey said.
Elrick: "Well, you know what; we'll stay a long time for the truth. I hope we'll get some."

While it may be too late to challenge Spivey's petitions with the Detroit City Clerk, and the state officials say it's not their problem, the secretary of state says a citizen could still try taking the matter to court.

It is hard to predict what a judge could do, but recently a St. Clair County Judge removed Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger for lying about where she really lived on paperwork she filed to run for office, so you never know.