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Lawsuit seeks to boot top GOP candidate from Michigan ballot over Jan. 6 arrest

A progressive political group in Michigan helped file a lawsuit Thursday that seeks to remove GOP candidate Ryan Kelley from the ballot in the governor’s race, citing his arrest on Jan. 6 charges.

The suit, filed by a Michigan voter with the help of Progress Michigan, requests Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and the Board of State Canvassers declare Kelley ineligible as a candidate and not count votes that have already been cast for him in the Aug. 2 primary, where early voting is already underway.

The lawsuit also aims to ensure Kelley — the frontrunner on the GOP side — does not appear on the November ballot if he wins the primary because he has “engaged in insurrection in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and therefore is ineligible to serve as a candidate for Governor for the State of Michigan.”

“He is a clear and present danger to democracy in Michigan,” the lawsuit states.

Progress Michigan, a progressive group based in Lansing, is not the plaintiff in the suit, which was filed in the state’s Court of Appeals. Rather, the group said it “assisted with research and financial support” for the suit.

“If you supported and participated in the January 6 insurrection, you should not have the privilege of holding — or even running — for public office,” Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, said in a statement. “Whether it’s Ryan Kelley or anyone else that was illegally at the Capitol trying to overturn the will of the people, there needs to be accountability.”

The Kelley campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kelley, a real estate broker, has surged to the top of polls since his arrest last month on misdemeanor charges related to the riot. He faces four charges related to his alleged actions at the Capitol, including disorderly conduct and willfully injuring or attacking U.S. property, according to the criminal complaint. Kelley has pleaded not guilty to the charges, saying he did not go inside the Capitol that day.

Thursday’s lawsuit cites the 14th Amendment’s prohibition on anyone who engages in insurrection against the U.S. government from running for federal or state office — an argument that holds merit, according to a recent federal appeals court ruling.

In May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit sided with the election and campaign finance reform group Free Speech for People in its lawsuit arguing the actions of Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., surrounding Jan. 6 disqualified him from holding office. Cawthorn, who had spoken at a rally that occurred before a pro-Trump crowd stormed the Capitol, ultimately lost his primary before the court ruled against him.

The same group also sought to bar Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., from seeking re-election. State election officials, however, cleared her to run after a state judge rejected arguments made by the group.

The 4th Circuit’s opinion regarding Cawthorn does not extend to Georgia.

In Michigan, Kelley emerged as a frontrunner in the GOP primary after the Republican field was scrambled by the disqualification of two leading candidates. He has led or tied for the lead in three recent polls.

The winner of the Republican primary will go up against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is seeking re-election and expected to be the Democratic nominee.

Kelley’s home was raided by the FBI on June 9, the day the House Jan. 6 committee began its nationally televised hearings.

During an interview with NBC News last month, Kelley painted his involvement in the Jan. 6 riot as an asset among the GOP electorate, saying no one else in the race showed the devotion he did by being on the scene that day.

“It boosted my name. There’s been a ton of support,” Kelley said.

Ryan J. Reilly and Henry J. Gomez contributed.

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