Long-Serving House Dem Forced to Fight After Failing to Qualify for the Ballot

Rep. John Conyers, one of the longest serving and most liberal members of Congress, has options after being knocked off the ballot in his Detroit district for failing to have enough signatures to qualify.

In this Nov. 6, 2012 photo, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., addresses supporters during the Michigan Democratic election night party in Detroit. Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett is expected to make her final determination Tuesday, May 13, 2014 on whether the longtime congressman should be on the Aug. 5 primary ballot. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

If a court challenge doesn’t work, the next step would be to mount a write-in candidacy for the Democratic primary.

The 84-year-old Conyers representing Michigan’s 13th congressional district is the longest-serving African-American member of Congress. He is now going to challenge the decision by Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett to disqualify him for falling 408 signatures short of the 1,000 required for ballot qualification.

More than 640 signatures were disqualified after the clerk’s staff investigation found several petition circulators were not registered to vote themselves, as required by Michigan law.

The Conyers campaign is first appealing the decision to Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a Republican, who oversees state election rules.

Michigan state Sen. Bert Johnson, the chairman of the Conyers campaign, told the Detroit News that the best chance the campaign has is challenging the law in federal court.

“We expect coming out of court … Mr. Conyers will be named to the ballot,” the campaign chairman told the Detroit News. “In the event of a surprise, we’ll pursue a write-in strategy that will be perhaps an even more robust campaign.”

A write-in strategy is difficult, but there is precedent for winning, particularly for well-known incumbents. In 2010, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski managed to be re-elected to the Senate as a write-in candidate in a three-way race after losing a Republican primary.

Garrett said she regrets the decision but is “bound by the current laws and statutes of the state of Michigan that set forth very specific and narrow instructions regarding candidate petitions and the authority of the County Clerk.”

“It is a very unfortunate circumstance that an issue with a circulator of a petition would disqualify the signature of a valid registered voter,” Garrett said in a statement Tuesday.

The Rev. Horace Shaffield, who made the initial challenge about the signatures to the Wayne County Clerk’s office, is for now the only Democrat on the Aug. 5 ballot for the district.

“Most of us play by the rules and have to die by the rules,” Shaffield told the Detroit News. “So if they can change the rules, we’ll abide the changes.”

The Detroit minister added, “I’ve not really pinned my hopes on the congressman being put off the ballot.”

This is the second congressman from the state in two years to have this problem.

In 2012, Rep. Thad McCotter, a Republican, resigned from Congress when campaign aides were prosecuted for producing fraudulent signatures.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee expressed its support for Conyers.

“The DCCC fully supports Rep. Conyers in his re-election campaign, and I have every confidence that when this long process is complete, Rep. Conyers will continue to serve the people of Michigan in Congress,” Chairman Steve Israel said.

(H/T: Detroit News)