Conyers Ruled Off Primary Ballot Over Disputed Signatures

Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the longest-serving U.S. lawmaker running for re-election this year, doesn’t have enough petition signatures to qualify for the ballot, the Wayne County Clerk ruled.

More than 1,400 of the 2,000 signatures filed by Conyers’s campaign for re-election to the U.S. House were invalid, Clerk Cathy Garrett said yesterday. That leaves the Democrat with 592 valid signatures -- more than 400 short of the 1,000 needed under Michigan law to qualify for the Aug. 5 primary ballot.

Conyers’s campaign chairman said the lawmaker will challenge the decision.

“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, first elected to Congress in 1964, represents a district that includes part of Detroit and its suburbs in Wayne County. He is the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus.

House Democratic leaders backed Conyers in the signature dispute.

“He has my full support, and I am confident he will prevail at the polls this fall,” said Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. New York Representative Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that works to elect House Democrats, said he supported Conyers and was confident he would win.

Longest-Serving Member

If he succeeds in his re-election bid, Conyers would become the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives after his Michigan colleague John Dingell, 87, retires at the end of the year.

Conyers, 84, has until the end of the week to appeal the decision to Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a Republican. He could still run as a write-in candidate if that appeal fails.

Horace Sheffield, a Detroit minister, is running against Conyers in the Democratic primary. Conyers 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.

Conyers initially appeared to have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot this year. Sheffield’s campaign successfully argued that three of Conyers’s petition-gatherers weren’t registered voters at the time they were collecting signatures.

‘Unfortunate Circumstance’

That invalidated more than 600 signatures and left Conyers more than 400 short.

“It is a very unfortunate circumstance that an issue with a circulator of a petition would disqualify” signatures of registered voters, Garrett said in a statement. Conyers’s nominating petitions “are insufficient to allow his name to appear on the August 5, 2014, primary ballot,” she said.

Meanwhile, legal challenges have been filed against the requirement under Michigan law that those gathering the signatures must be registered voters.

Garrett noted the challenges while saying her ruling was “bound by the current laws and statutes.”

This is the second consecutive election year that signature issues have plagued a Detroit-area congressman. Republican Thaddeus McCotter was thrown off the ballot after several of his nominating petitions were found to be faked.

McCotter, Bentivolio

McCotter resigned in July 2012, opening the door for Kerry Bentivolio, who like Sheffield had initially filed as a long-shot challenger to an incumbent. Bentivolio easily defeated a write-in candidate backed by local Republican leaders to win his seat in the House.

Write-in candidacies for Congress are difficult though not impossible endeavors.

In 2006, Democrats Charlie Wilson of Ohio and Dave Loebsack of Iowa failed to get enough signatures to be included on primary ballots. They won their primaries as write-in candidates and went on to win in the general election over Republicans. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski lost a Republican primary in 2010 and then ran as a write-in candidate in the general election. She won in a three-way race.

If Conyers doesn’t win re-election, it will exacerbate what’s shaping up for Michigan to be a big exodus of seniority, weakening its clout in Congress.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, a Democrat and Michigan’s senior senator who has held his seat since 1978, is retiring. Also leaving are two House chairmen, Republicans Dave Camp of Ways and Means and Mike Rogers of the House Intelligence panel.

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