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Judge orders state to put independent Attorney General candidate's name on November ballot

Christopher Graveline
Independent Michigan Attorney General candidate Christopher Graveline

The Michigan Secretary of State must place an independent candidate for Attorney General’s name on the November ballot if he submits the right paperwork, a federal judge ruled Monday.

Independent candidate Christopher Graveline submitted nominating petitions with over 14,000 signatures by the state deadline in July. But those were rejected because Graveline did not meet the 30,000-signature threshold required by state law.

That law is unique to independent candidates. Statewide office candidates for both the two major and other minor parties are decided at nominating conventions.

After being denied by the Secretary of State, Graveline sued over what he calls Michigan’s unconstitutionally burdensome rules on ballot access for independents.

“The current electoral scheme that Michigan has in place for independent candidates has been very difficult to attain,” Graveline said. “In fact, no independent candidate has been able to attain it in the 30 years it’s been in force.”

U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts preliminarily agreed, ruling that Graveline’s case is likely to succeed on its merits.

The state failed to counter Graveline’s argument that “Michigan’s long history of failing to qualify an independent candidate for statewide office has served to exclude all independent candidates for attorney general from the ballot for thirty years, and that this failure should be considered by the Court as a reliable indicator of the unconstitutionality of Michigan’s statutes,” Roberts wrote.

Roberts ordered that if Graveline immediately re-submits his petitions and the Secretary of State finds he has at least 5,000 valid signatures, including at least 100 valid signatures from registered voters in each of at least half of the 14 congressional districts of the state, his name must go on the ballot.

Graveline says he will do just that. He said this lawsuit and his run for Attorney General are both motivated by a desire to give voters a “third alternative not beholden to any political party.”

“We can have a non-partisan, independent person in an office that truly should be independent and non-partisan,” said Graveline, a self-described political centrist and newcomer who quit his jobas a federal prosecutor in Detroit in June to run for office.

Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, said Monday the office is reviewing the decision. The state could appeal to U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Graveline said he will proceed regardless of what happens. “I think that the judge made a very thorough decision,” he said. “I feel very confident in our ability to defend it if the state should decide to appeal.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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