June 6 2012 12:00 AM

Democrats came close to having a primary fight over who gets to be the almost certain sacrificial lamb against Mike Rogers this fall. Then fate — in the form of a state Bureau of Elections’ ruling — intervened and saved everyone a lot of


Michael Magdich, a staunch alternative energy supporter from Livingston County, hoped to oppose Lance Enderle, the Democratic nominee two years ago, in the August primary for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House in the 8th Congressional District. The winner would vie with Mike Rogers, the GOP incumbent with a ton of money, in the fall. Rogers trounced Enderle 65 percent to 34 percent in 2010.

But the state Bureau of Elections said Magdich had an insufficient number of valid signatures on his nominating petition.

It could have been worse. The board decided not to investigate one of the signatures as fraudulent, figuring why bother since Magdich wasn’t on the ballot. If it was a fake, somebody could have even faced prison.

The bureau counted 916 valid signatures of 1,307 on the petition, not enough to place Magdich on the ballot. In a report made public Monday, the bureau made no mention of the alleged fraud or affidavit signed by a Lansing-area resident that his signature had been forged. 

Spokesman Fred Woodhams said Bureau employees “are not handwriting experts” and that the recommendation to not place Magdich on the ballot made the affidavit a “moot” point.

A challenge against Magdich’s petitions was filed by Jill Thurtell, a volunteer with the Enderle campaign, shortly after the May 15 deadline, when candidates needed to turn in at least 1,000 valid signatures to be placed on the ballot.

The challenge highlighted what Thurtell called over 800 “questionable” signatures. When a challenge is filed with the Bureau of Elections, the state must go over the challenge line by line and determine if each signature is that of a valid, registered voter. If a signature is not valid, it is not counted toward the required minimum. Issues with the petitions, Thurtell claimed, ranged from “miscellaneous errors” on the part of circulators to signatures belonging to non-registered voters.

The main issue in challenges is the validity of signatures, said Jocelyn Benson, an associate professor specializing in election law at Wayne State University Law School. Benson was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for secretary of state in 2010.

“Invalid signatures are the most common problem,” she said. “Entire sheets can be marked invalid if they’re not filled out properly by the circulator. The wrong date, a voter not registered in the county. A lot of discrepancies and technicalities can cause a signature or sheet of signatures to be declared invalid.”

A case of fraud on a nominating petition is a “very, very serious” allegation and fairly rare, she said. 

The secretary of state and the Department of Elections get the “first stab at the investigation,” she said, and if the fraud is proven to be true then the case “could and should be referred to the Attorney General’s Office.”

Fraud can result in “fines to time in prison” depending on the “severity and extent,” she said. “It’s difficult to speculate. It’s in the hands of the court.” 

The individual petition circulator, the candidate or anyone hired by the candidate to collect signatures could be implicated depending on the situation, Benson said. She added that when a case of fraud is brought to the state’s attention, the focus could shift from simply validating signatures to an investigation into fraudulent gathering practices. 

The signature in question on the Magdich petition belonged to Patrick Diehl, a Holt resident. 

“It´s disturbing that Magdich’s people would falsify my signature,” Diehl said in an email. 

Diehl said he remembers talking to two people who came to his door with two petitions. He signed one and said he can’t remember what it was but when the petition came up regarding the 8th District race he said, “I handed it back and told him I was supporting Lance Enderle but thanks anyway.”

Diehl’s name appeared on a sheet circulated by a Lansing resident, Markus Miner, who said he doesn’t recall Diehl and said he didn’t know anything about the forged signature. He said he was hired a few weeks ago to be paid per-signature by people with the Magdich campaign. He said he hasn’t heard from Magdich’s campaign and has yet to be paid. 

Referring to the GOP congressman from the 11th District who recently dropped out because he lacked sufficient signatures, Diehl said, “It’s interesting that Thaddeus McCotter’s signature snafu got so much coverage while something just as sinister, if not more sinister, took place in my district and received no attention.

“It’s a form of identify theft and it mocks the whole process. Hopefully the Magdich people were unaware of the circulators’ dishonesty just as McCotter apparently was. Regardless, it’s wrong and it needs to be revealed and addressed.”

Enderle, whose petitions encountered no problems, had no comment on the record.