Berkeley? Berkly? How This Michigan Town’s Spelling Triggered Fraud Allegations in Local Circuit Judge Election

Signature scandal plaguing three other campaigns implicates same eight circulators

By |2022-05-19T16:41:59-04:00May 19th, 2022|Michigan, News|

Beverly Hills attorney Amanda Shelton may soon be one step closer to winning her race for Oakland County circuit court judge, well ahead of Election Day. Shelton’s wife, Kay Shelton, has filed a complaint with the Michigan Bureau of Elections challenging the nominating petitions of her wife’s opponent, Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor Tricia Dare. The Dare campaign is accused of signature fraud. 

The eight circulators named in the complaint are also implicated in scandals plaguing the campaigns of at least three other Michigan candidates — most notably, former Detroit Police Chief and gubernatorial hopeful James Craig.

“We were suspicious early on, even before we looked at the petitions, to be honest,” Kay Shelton said. “There was a social media post that went out from the Dare campaign where it says, ‘Most candidates take months and months and dozens of volunteers to gather 4,000 petition signatures. The Dare campaign has more than 6,000 verified signatures in 28 days.’”

The Shelton campaign thought that sounded questionable. Significantly, signature gathering had been especially challenging during a very cold March. Upon review, Kay Shelton cited what she called “red flags.”

“Handwriting started to look very similar,” Shelton said. There were also spelling irregularities. 

“They spelled ‘Berkley’ wrong,” Kay Shelton said. “They spell it ‘Berkeley,’ California instead of ‘Berkley’ here, and we know a lot of people who live in Berkley. And they say, if you’re from Berkley, that’s just not something you do. You don’t spell it wrong. It’s kind of like a Berkley pride sort of thing.”

“Berkly” and “Berkely” appear on the petitions as well. 

Here, “Berkley” is misspelled in multiple signatures.

Individuals’ names were spelled incorrectly, too: In one case, “Eduard” was misspelled as “Edward,” Shelton said.

In several instances, a curious pattern of signatures emerged from people residing in non-adjacent cities, such as Royal Oak, Novi and Waterford, then repeated for numerous pages. Shelton said they tried to imagine how that many people from only those cities would be signing petitions in the same place.

Examples of repeating city name and similarities in handwriting.

Shelton cited obituaries for people whose names appear on Dare’s petitions, as well as signed affidavits from people who claim their signatures were faked. The scandal reached one of the Shelton’s own neighbors. 

“She’s elderly and not been well, so I walk over there and her husband answers the door,” Kay Shelton said. “He’s like, ‘That is not her signature. I know that’s not her signature and she has not left this house in three months.’”

Kay Shelton does not believe the Dare campaign was aware of the scheme. She called it a crime of opportunity. She said she didn’t know how much the Dare campaign paid, but when they were looking into people to hire, the going rate was $5 a signature. As the filing deadline approached, she said people were expecting “anywhere from $20 up to $35 a signature.” 

Both Shelton and attorney John Allen, of John M. Allen, P.C., who is representing Amanda Shelton and assisted with filing the complaint, emphasized the responsibility the rival campaign bears in ensuring their own petitions are properly vetted. 

“There’s probably been an enormous lack of oversight and neglect in the way that it was done,” Allen said. “When you turn these petitions in, you generally are certifying that they’ve been reviewed and that they are being submitted in good faith and are accurate. 

“I don’t know what kind of a review was undertaken by the candidate before these went in,” he continued, “but if the candidate had done even a fraction of the due diligence that anybody else looking at these petitions had done, a candidate might have seen that there were problems with the petitions — and not turned them in.”

For their part, the Shelton campaign hired one paid circulator late in the process, an individual Kay Shelton said they were able to vet to their satisfaction. An earlier attempt to hire outside help resulted in 200 to 300 duplicate signatures having to be tossed before filing. 

Shelton said it was her understanding that because signature gathering firms do their own hiring, “you have no idea really who’s out there on the streets getting signatures for you.”

Allen called what the Shelton campaign had accomplished “truly a grassroots effort” by family, friends and people who believed in her. He described how challenging it can be to approach busy people for a conversation about the candidate and why you’re asking for their signature. 

“It’s not an easy thing to do,” Allen said. “And it really is the first test of the candidate’s commitment to the campaign and willingness to get out and actually interact with the people that you’re gonna be asking to [vote] for you.”

Separately, Shelton is facing a petition challenge of her own, unrelated to forgery. The Dare campaign has filed a complaint challenging Shelton’s residence. “Beverly Hills” appears in the field on the petitions designated for the candidate’s city or township, when it is in fact a village. Technically, the Sheltons live in Southfield Township. Southfield Township comprises the villages of Beverly Hills, Franklin and Bingham Farms.

According to Allen, Shelton confirmed with the Bureau of Elections that her petitions were properly prepared before filing them. He said the requirement for the candidate’s address to appear in the heading is to inform voters whether the candidate resides in the electoral district they are competing in.

“Amanda has resided in Beverly Hills and Oakland County for the past 18 years,” Allen said. “She has satisfied the letter and the spirit of the law and the challenge to her petitions is entirely without merit.” 

Based on their findings, the Michigan Bureau of Elections is scheduled on May 24 to make a recommendation to the bipartisan Board of Canvassers. On May 26, the Board of Canvassers is scheduled to vote on whether to certify the petitions.

“Whether it’s gathering signatures or whether that’s through actually casting votes, the last thing we need is additional questions over the integrity of the process,” Allen said. “Anyone that contributes to that or is neglectful about that, shame on them.”

About the Author:

Ellen Knoppow is a writer who believes in second acts.