U.S. District Court Judge Terrence G. Berg ruled Monday, April 20, on a federal lawsuit filed by Birmingham resident Eric Esshaki, a proposed Republican candidate for the 11th Congressional District, that candidates who were collecting signatures to qualify for the August primary ballot can submit 50 percent of the required number of signatures by 5 p.m. Friday, May 8, rather than by the 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 21, deadline.
Berg also directed Michigan Director of Elections Jonathan Brater to develop rules to allow potential candidates to collect and submit ballot petition signatures electronically within the next 72 hours. In his ruling, Berg stated, the filing deadline “would cause injury to the First Amendment rights of an innumerable number of Michigan voters.”
Esshaki had filed a federal lawsuit against Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary State Jocelyn Benson and state Elections Director Jonathon Brater, alleging the state's stay-at-home deadline is preventing him from collecting the necessary valid signatures by the April 21 deadline to appear on the August primary on April 1. The lawsuit was heard at a hearing on Wednesday, April 15, before Before Berg, who said he understood time was of the essence in the case.
At issue for Esshaki was that the filing date to run in the August 3 primary, set by the state legislature, is Tuesday, April 21, at 4 p.m. His allegation was that when Whitmer issued a stay-at-home edict effective March 24, “it cut the filing deadline by 28 days,” he said.
Esshaki is a Birmingham resident and attorney who said on Thursday, April 16, he had just resigned from the Howard & Howard law firm in Royal Oak to concentrate on his campaign. He announced last October he was running for the 11th Congressional District seat, currently held by Democrat Haley Stevens. Michigan's 11th District includes Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Troy, part of Rochester Hills, Commerce Township, western Oakland and western Wayne counties.
On his Facebook page, Esshaki wrote, “Today was a victory for protecting our Constitutional Rights. It was a direct rebuke against Governor Whitmer’s partisan actions seeking unlimited power.”
For congress, candidates must get a required number of valid signatures in order to appear on the primary ballot. For state house and senate, judicial and municipal candidates, candidates may get either signatures or pay a fee to appear on the ballot.
When asked, Esshaki acknowledged he could have gotten out sooner to acquire the required number of signatures, but said, he, like other candidates, “were waiting for the weather to break to go out.”
On the Oakland County election website, information shows Stevens submitted her petitions on March 16; Republican challengers Frank Acosta on February 7, and Whittney Williams on March 18.
To Esshaki's assertion the filing deadline is a “power grab,” it was pointed out that in Michigan's 8th District, comprised of Rochester, Rochester Hills, northern Oakland County, parts of Livingston and Ingham counties, three Republican candidates, Alan Hoover (March 23), Paul Junge (March 18) and Kristina Lyke (April 2), had all submitted since the stay-at-home edict, as has incumbent Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who submitted on April 15.