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Adam Hollier
Adam Hollier is hoping to unseat Rep. Shri Thanedar.
Dale G. Young/AP

A Ballot Issue Could Rock the Primary Race for Detroit’s U.S. House Member

A new complaint could torpedo Adam Hollier’s bid to replace Democratic Rep. Shri Thanedar. But his prominent endorsers are not yet abandoning him.

The top Black leaders who endorsed Rep. Shri Thanedar’s primary challenger aren’t withdrawing their support just yet despite allegations that his campaign forged signatures in nomination petition documents.

“When you endorse someone, you endorse them because you feel that they are qualified to do the job and as someone that you would welcome to be your colleague. I don’t think that has changed [for me],” former Rep. Brenda Lawrence, one of Adam Hollier’s early endorsers, told NOTUS. “I really feel Hollier would be a better member of Congress than Shri.”

Thanedar — Detroit’s first non-Black representative in almost 70 years — is expected to face Hollier in the August Democratic primary in Michigan. It was already a dramatic race, thanks to some of Thanedar’s colleagues backing his primary challenger in an effort to elect a Black candidate to the seat.

But it heated up this week when Thanedar filed a complaint Tuesday with the Michigan Board of State Canvassers claiming Hollier failed to provide the minimum of 1,000 signatures on a nomination petition required to be on the ballot. He requested that Hollier be denied ballot access.

Thanedar employed state consultant Mark Grebner to conduct an investigation into Hollier’s ballot signatures. He found that only 761 of the 1,555 signatures Hollier submitted to qualify on the ballot were from registered voters living in his district, according to a signed affidavit from the consultant shared by the Thanedar campaign. The rest were either duplicate signatures, unregistered voters, signers living outside the district, attributed to the wrong address or simply forged, the affidavit alleges.

The Detroit Free Press reported Thursday that it identified the signature of one of its reporters who said she hadn’t signed Hollier’s petition and alleged that it was forged.

Hollier did not return NOTUS’ request for comment. But his campaign told the Detroit Free Press that it retained legal counsel to investigate the matter, and it’s “confident that a significant number of the challenges filed against our signatures are erroneous.”

Lawrence said Hollier told her he was caught off guard and was “going through dotting all his I’s and crossing all the T’s.” She’s still waiting on the final verdict, she said.

“If this is factual, that the signatures don’t add up, it would be extremely disappointing,” she said.

Jonathan Kinloch, the Michigan Democratic Party district chair for Detroit, told NOTUS the reports were “quite disturbing.” He hasn’t endorsed either Thanedar or Hollier.

This is “an example of how people are not taking the petition-gathering process serious,” he said.

It’s also an example of the risks of endorsing candidates before they’ve filed their nomination petitions, Kinloch said. “This is just a teaching moment for a lot of people. I will tell you that,” he said.

Black leaders in Washington haven’t spoken out yet — Rep. Steven Horsford, the current Congressional Black Caucus chair who recently endorsed Hollier, did not return a request for comment.

Michigan elections have been notoriously fraught with allegations of questionable nominating petitions. As recently as January, the state attorney general presided over a case where a former 2020 GOP gubernatorial candidate’s operatives were accused of falsifying signatures.

One Republican candidate in the district expressed empathy for Hollier. Martell Bivings, a GOP candidate mounting a long shot House bid, called the process of collecting signatures “daunting” and a “requirement [that] stops so many [candidates] from advancing.”

“If you ever fucking cut corners and sign a journalist’s signature? That’s odd,” he told NOTUS. “It’s scary because it’s like, ‘Is this person trying to sabotage me? Is this internal sabotage?’”

Thanedar said in a statement that he was looking “forward to an official review of Hollier’s petitions.”

“If his petitions are valid, we look forward to a primary election in August with Adam Hollier on the ballot,” he said.

Hollier previously faced off with Thanedar in 2022 for what was then an open seat. Now, Thanedar has the advantage of incumbency, the backing of leading Indian American lawmakers on the Hill (he boasts endorsements from Reps. Ro Khanna and Raja Krishnamoorthi) and a well-financed campaign. Thanedar reported over $5 million cash on hand — $3 million of which is his own money — compared to Hollier, who reported $570,000 cash on hand in the first quarter of 2024.

If Hollier’s candidacy does fail, the people seeking to elect a Black representative in Detroit should not take the blame, Kinloch said.

“Every election cycle, individuals have an opportunity to stand up and to run for office,” Kinloch said. “This isn’t something that needs to be borne on the backs of Black people and those individuals who support his candidacy.”

Tinashe Chingarande is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.