LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan's attorney general said Thursday that his office's criminal division will investigate possible fraud in a petition debacle that has forced U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter to run for his Detroit-area congressional seat as a write-in candidate.
Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette said he's taking action after getting a formal referral from the state elections bureau.
"I thank the Michigan secretary of state and attorney general for commencing the criminal investigation of petitions I requested Tuesday (and) will assist as they see fit," McCotter said Thursday in a statement.
Elections officials told the congressman last week that it appeared so many of the 2,000 signatures his campaign submitted had problems that he wouldn't have the 1,000 needed to get on the Aug. 7 GOP primary ballot. Only 244 of the signatures appear valid, officials said.
The submitted petitions have sections that don't line up or have been cut off, and some of the signatures appear to have been copied from other petitions and pasted onto new ones to make it look as though McCotter had the number required.
Schuette promised a "thorough and complete investigation" of his fellow Republican's petition signatures.
"It's our duty to maintain the integrity of the election process," Schuette said in a statement. "If evidence of criminal violations is uncovered, we will not hesitate to prosecute."
McCotter hasn't said who dealt with the petitions, but he acknowledged problems while speaking on Detroit radio station WJR earlier this week.
"There is a prima facie case that somebody did something that they shouldn't have," he said. "I do feel like someone I trusted lied to me. And that, in my line of work, is shocking."
Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer said in a Thursday release that he'd counted 14 petition signature gatherers on the forms submitted to the secretary of state's office, including five McCotter congressional staff members and several local elected officials and GOP activists from the 11th District, which now stretches through parts of Oakland and Wayne counties outside Detroit.
McCotter ran a little-noticed GOP presidential campaign last year before asking voters to re-elect him, prompting other prominent Republicans to stay out of the congressional race. The lone Republican candidate now on the primary ballot is Kerry Bentivolio, a 60-year-old Vietnam War veteran, teacher and beekeeper from Milford who has gotten the support of a tea party group.
Write-in campaigns are expensive, because candidates have to educate voters on how to cast a write-in ballot. However, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski ran a successful general election write-in campaign in 2010 after losing the GOP primary. Murkowski became the first person since 1954 to win a write-in campaign for U.S. Senate.
Two Wayne County residents, William Roberts of Redford Township and Oakwood Hospital chief of medicine Taj Syed of Canton Township, have filed to run in the Democratic primary.
Follow Kathy Barks Hoffman on Twitter: http://twitter.com/kathybhoffman .