U.S. Rep. John Conyers, 85, avoided a costly write-in campaign to keep the Michigan congressional seat he has represented since 1964 after a federal judge nullified an earlier decision by state election officials on a challenge to his election petition.
A review of his election petition contained fewer than half the number of signatures required to appear on Michigan’s Aug. 5 primary ballot, The Detroit Free Press reports, citing a reveiw of the petition by the Secretary of State’s office. That ruling confirmed the findings of Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garret that Conyers petition was invalid.
The petitions returned by two circulators who were not registered voters were thrown out, leaving Conyers short of the number of signatures he needed to qualify for the ballot.
But late Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Leitman said a requirement that individuals circulating election petitions be registered voters is constitutional.
“There is evidence that their failure to comply with the Registration Statute was the result of good faith mistakes and that they believed they were in compliance with the statute,” Leitman said in his ruling.
“As Secretary (of State Ruth) Johnson implicitly acknowledged in her ruling issued today, if the signatures excluded pursuant to the Registration Statute may not be excluded from Mr. Conyers’ total – and this Court holds that they may not be – then Mr. Conyers has enough signatures to qualify for placement on the ballot,” Leitman ruled. “He shall be placed on the ballot.”
In a decision earlier in the day, Johnson’s office noted that “Michigan election law is designed to protect the purity of the ballot access process.”
In its review, Johnson’s office said a Conyers’ campaign consultant, Steve Hood, admitted he didn’t verify whether two of the petition circulators were registered voters.
“... When campaigns fail to comply with the law by executing basic principles of petition circulation, they create their own ‘ballot access crisis’ when their failures are discovered by or brought to the attention of election officials,” the SOS said in its review.
Conyers, a Democrat, is the second-longest serving person in Congress, behind fellow Michigander Congressman John Dingell, who said in February that he would retire when his term expires in January. The two Democrats have served longer than anyone in the history of Congress.
Conyers currently represents Michigan’s 13th District (numbered the 1st District until 1993, and then as the 14th District until 2013), which includes the western half of Detroit, Dearborn, Highland Park, Wyandotte, Romulus and other Downriver suburbs.