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Federal judge orders state of Michigan to extend August primary filing date due to COVID-19

person signing a petition while another holds a clipboard
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Political candidates in Michigan now have until May 8 to file the number of required signatures to appear on the August ballot.

A federal judge is ordering the state of Michigan to extend the filing deadline forpolitical candidatestrying to get on the August ballot.

“These are not normal times,” U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg wrote in his order, that the state must reduce the number of required signatures by 50%, allow for the collection of electronic signatures, and extend the deadline to May 8.

On March 23, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a “stay at home” orderintended to curtail the spread of the COVID-19pandemic. The order prohibited all nonessential in-person work. The lockdown prevented some candidates from collecting enough petition signatures before the April 21 deadline.

The original suit was brought byEric Esshaki. He’s one of a number of Republicans vying to challenge incumbent Democratic Congresswoman Haley Stevens in the 11th congressional district.

Esshaki had collected roughly 700 signatures before the governor’s stay at home order was issued. To qualify for the ballot, Esshaki needed to collect 1,000 valid signatures. But the governor’s order effectively prevents door-to-door in-person signature gathering.

Esshaki went to court arguing the state should allow for fewer signatures to qualify for a spot on the ballot.

Other states, including New York and Utah, have reduced, altered or eliminated the signature requirement altogether. But attorneys for the state of Michigan contended the legislature had set the signature requirement, so the requirement could not be altered. Though the state suggested the signature deadline could be extended.

In the end, Judge Berg decided the competing interests of a candidate’s desire to be on the ballot and the state’s need to regulate the ballot fell, in this case, in the candidate’s favor.

The order extends to a variety of other candidates with different signature thresholds seeking spots on the August primary ballot.

According to the Michigan Secretary of State, these are the offices affected by the ruling:

The order only pertains to offices that do not include an option to file with a filing fee. This means that the order doesn’t apply to any county or township office, nor does it apply to the office of State Representative. The only offices affected are:

  •  U.S. Senate
  • U.S. Congress
  • Wayne County Community College Trustee
  • All Judicial Offices (only for candidates who are not the current incumbents
  • Any city office where the city charter does not allow the option to file with a fee

For all other offices, the filing deadline remains April 21.
Eric Esshaki says the judge's ruling reaffirms the Bill of Rights. He also attacked Gov. Whitmer, accusing the Democrat of trying to suppress Republican voices.  

“It is clear the Governor’s political ambitions were at work here," Esshaki said in a written statement after the ruling was issued.  

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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