News (AP) - Michigan's Tea Party fight appears headed to court

By Tim Martin

Associated Press Writer

LANSING (AP) -- The fight over whether a group calling itself The Tea Party can put candidates on the Michigan ballot in November appears headed for court after a state elections board deadlocked on the question Monday.

The Board of State Canvassers voted 2-2 on a motion that would have allowed the party to appear on the ballot, with Democrats supporting the move and Republicans opposing it. That means the party isn't certified to be on the ballot.

Many Republicans and tea party activists consider The Tea Party ballot effort a Democrat-aided plan aimed at deceiving voters and drawing votes away from conservative candidates that they would support. The would-be political party nominated candidates without notifying Michigan's tea party groups or seeking their input.

An attorney for The Tea Party says he plans to file with the Michigan Court of Appeals this week to try to make the ballot and run a limited slate of candidates. But the group has other challenges, including allegations that some of its potential candidates may have been nominated through fraud.

The Tea Party is seeking to run candidates for attorney general, secretary of state, two of Michigan's 15 congressional districts, six of 38 seats in the state Senate and eight of 110 seats in the state House. The group also wants to run candidates for the University of Michigan Board of Regents, the State Board of Education and the Oakland County Board of Commissioners.

Oakland County Clerk Ruth Johnson, a Republican, told the state election board that she suspects fraud in the nominating of a Tea Party candidate for the county commission. Johnson said the candidate told her office he was nominated without his knowledge.

The Oakland County Democratic Party executive board said in a statement Sunday that it requested and accepted the resignation of one its staffers, Jason Bauer, whose name has been linked to The Tea Party effort. Bauer's name is listed as the notary on the affidavits of some Tea Party candidates, including the potential Oakland County commission candidate referenced by Johnson.

Bauer could not immediately be reached for comment Monday. An attorney for The Tea Party didn't have specifics on the Oakland County allegations but said the group does not condone fraud.

Two candidates nominated by The Tea Party to run for state Senate seats couldn't be on the ballot because they're too young to hold office.

State election officials estimated that The Tea Party submitted about 45,000 valid voter signatures, more than enough to be eligible for the ballot.

Opponents did not challenge the voter signatures themselves. They instead asked the election board to disqualify The Tea Party from the ballot because of what they say are irregularities on the petitions the group circulated to make the ballot.

Opponents say petitions did not properly have the word "the" in 24-point boldface type, along with the rest the "Tea Party" title.

"If anything, it shows the confusion they created themselves," said John Pirich, an attorney for tea party activists and Republican candidates opposing the group's efforts to make the ballot.

Michael Hodge, an attorney for The Tea Party, said the petition meets the threshold for complying with state law.

"I fully expect to be in court," Hodge said of the efforts to make the ballot.

The Tea Party told state officials it had its convention to nominate candidates in late July. Hodge said the convention was attended by 10 or 15 people.

Opponents say The Tea Party didn't comply with state law related to nominating conventions.

Published: Wed, Aug 25, 2010