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Candidates plead for changes to filing deadline requirements

people collecting signatures
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Candidate Bob Carr says it's impossible to gather petition signatures without risking the spread of coronavirus. Carr hopes to run in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Michigan.

Candidates for public office who say they haven’t been able to venture out and gather petition signatures because of social distancing say the state should change the candidate filing requirements, and simply extending the deadline wouldn’t be good enough. The candidate filing deadline to qualify for the August primary ballot is Tuesday.

“If there’s not an adjustment in the requirement then a lot of candidates are going to be precluded from being on the ballot, which restricts the voters’ choice,” said Nadine Hatten, a Hazel Park District Court magistrate running for an open seat on the Oakland County Circuit Court.

Hatten estimates her campaign has gathered about half of the 4,000 petition signatures required to get on the ballot. Some judicial candidates have higher signature requirements than the 1,000 petition signatures required to run for U.S. Representative in Michigan. Hatten says the required number of signatures should be reduced.

As of Friday, only one candidate had filed to run for the Oakland County Circuit Court seat opening this year because of the scheduled retirement of Judge James Alexander.

There’s concern that a higher-than-usual amount of candidates in Michigan will be running unopposed because social distancing made it harder for candidates like Hatten and Eric Esshaki to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot. Esshaki wants to run in the Republican primary in Michigan's 11th Congressional District and has sued the state, asking U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Berg to compel the state to accept fewer petition signatures. Berg is expected to issue a ruling soon. Democrat Haley Stevens is the 11th District incumbant.

There are non-incumbent candidates who have managed to gather the requisite signatures and filed for the ballot ahead of the deadline. In Michigan’s 8th Congressional District, which includes a portion of northern Oakland County, Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin has submitted petition signatures, as well as three of five Republicans in the race. Republican Candidates Mike Detmer of Howell and Michigan Board of Education member Nikki Snyder have not yet submitted petition signatures, but say they will before the 4 p.m. Tuesday deadline. Detmer says in order to get 1,000 petition signatures, he mailed out petitions and asked people to add their signature and mail them back.

In the Esshaki lawsuit, attorneys for the state argued the candidate filing deadline could be extended until May 8, but the petition signature requirements should stay in place. Bob Carr is campaigning to run in the Republican Primary for the U.S. Senate seat in Michigan, and says there’s virtually no way to gather petition signatures without risking the exposure of more people to the coronavirus.

Carr says the state should waive the petition signature requirement for all candidates who were gathering signatures prior to March 13, the date of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order banning gatherings of 250 people or more. He also likes what Gov. Andrew Cuomo has done in New York, reducing the requisite number of signatures to 30% of the statutory threshold.  

Carr says he interrupted his signature-gathering campaign because of the coronavirus, and even with an extension of the deadline there wouldn’t be enough time to re-build and re-organize that effort

“I will tell you this much, an extension [of the deadline] will not work.” Carr said. “The teams, the people, are gone.”

Asked about the candidate filing deadline and requirements last week, Whitmer called it “critical in terms of keeping our elections on schedule.”

On the same day, Whitmer’s deputy press secretary said the governor’s office is “reviewing” candidate filing deadline requirements.

The Michigan Attorney General’s office has said some candidates’ failure to turn in enough signatures to make the ballot could simply indicate a lack of popular support, according to TheDetroit News

Tyler Scott is the weekend afternoon host at Michigan Public, though you can often hear him filling in at other times during the week. Tyler started in radio at age 18, as a board operator at WMLM 1520AM in Alma, Michigan, where he later became host of The Morning Show.
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