Rep. John Conyers has been a member of the Michigan congressional delegation for the past 50 years, but his reign may end due not to a worthy opponent but a bizarre state election rule, which could keep his name off the ballot in the Aug. 5 primary.
Conyers is the longest-serving U.S. lawmaker running for re-election this year, but because of a decision by Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett, Conyers doesn’t have enough petition signatures to qualify for the ballot.
The Conyers campaign collected 2,000 signatures, a thousand more than he needed to qualify for the ballot this year, but the campaign of his opponent Horace Sheffield, a Detroit minister, argued that three of Conyers’ petition-gatherers weren’t registered voters at the time they were collecting signatures. The county clerk agreed, invalidating more than 1,400 of Conyers’ signatures and leaving the legendary congressman more than 400 short of the 1,000 needed under Michigan law.
The 84-year-old Conyers has until the end of the week to appeal the decision to Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a Republican. If that fails, he could still run as a write-in candidate, which is a daunting but not impossible task.
As pointed out by Business Week, Democrats Charlie Wilson of Ohio and Dave Loebsack of Iowa failed to get enough signatures to be included on primary ballots in 2006, but they won their primaries as write-in candidates and went on to win in the general election over Republicans.
In addition, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski ran as a write-in candidate in the general election when she lost the Republican primary in 2010, and she went on to win the seat in a three-way race.
“It is a very unfortunate circumstance that an issue with a circulator of a petition would disqualify” signatures of registered voters, the clerk Garrett said in a statement. Conyers’ nominating petitions “are insufficient to allow his name to appear on the August 5, 2014, primary ballot,” she said.
“We look forward to presenting our case before the appropriate authorities,” state Senator Bert Johnson said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “We believe Representative Conyers will ultimately be placed on the August ballot.”
Conyers supporters also have filed legal challenges to the state requirement that those gathering signatures must be registered voters.
Conyers, whose district includes part of Detroit and its Wayne County suburbs, is the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee and a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus. He is so popular in his district that he won re-election in 2012 with 83 percent of the vote, after getting 55 percent of the vote against four opponents in that year’s primary.
With Conyers’ Michigan colleague Rep. John Dingell, 87, retiring at the end of this year, Conyers would become the longest-serving member of the House if re-elected.