89.1 WEMU

Elections Officials Say They Can't Force Melissa Gilbert To Appear On The Ballot

Aug 23, 2016

Melissa Gilbert
Credit Wikipedia Media Commons / wikipedia.org

Michigan Republicans have not given up on efforts to keep Democrat Melissa Gilbert on the November ballot despite her wishes and those of her party.


A state elections board declined a GOP request to launch a closer review of whether her request to exit the 8th Congressional District race is sincere, or meant to simply bail on a campaign where she stumbled time and time again.  

The former child star of Little House on the Prairie won the uncontested Democratic primary, but now says painful back and neck troubles make her unable to campaign or serve if elected.  A rarely invoked state law allows that.  But Republicans say the state should make Gilbert prove she has debilitating health problems. 

The Michigan GOP asked the Board of State Canvassers to open its own inquiry, but the board declined to act.  That’s after Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson determined Gilbert had met the criteria to withdraw and be replaced by local Democratic Party officials. 

GOP attorney Jason Hanselman said the state should not “rubber stamp” the claim by Gilbert and the Democratic Party that she’s physically incapable of running. 

But Michigan Elections Director Chris Thomas says it’s the party’s call. 

I mean, it’s their nominee,” he says, “and if this person can’t campaign because they’re physically unfit, it’s hard to argue that the party should be stuck with that person if that person wants off.” 

Thomas says anyone who has problem with the decision needs to take their beef to the Democratic Party. 

Mary Ellen Gurewitz is a lawyer for the Michigan Democratic Party.  And she says that’s true.

“The request to withdraw is made to the party, and the party determines how it will act upon it,” she says.  “There’s no public official who has any authority to do anything with it.” 

Democrats plan to replace Gilbert with attorney Suzanna Shkrelli.  The Republican in the November ballot is incumbent Congressman Mike Bishop

The Michigan Republican Party will determine its next move soon.

Like 89.1 WEMU on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

— Rick Pluta is the Managing Editor and Reporter for the Michigan Public Radio network.  Contact WEMU News at 734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org