County clerk rules Rep. John Conyers ineligible to appear on ballot


File: Rep. John Conyers (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The Wayne County Clerk's office ruled Tuesday that long-serving Michigan Rep. John Conyers (D) is ineligible to appear on the Aug. 5 primary ballot because he did not submit enough valid petition signatures, a big blow to the Democrat who has served in the House for nearly 50 years.

Conyers plans to file an appeal of the ruling with the Michigan Secretary of State, his campaign attorney told the Post on Tuesday night.

First elected in 1964, Conyers is currently the longest-serving member of the House behind fellow Michigan Rep. John Dingell (D), who is retiring this year.

In a final ruling, Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett's office said that Conyers submitted just 592 valid signatures -- well short of the 1,000 required under the law. Hundreds of signatures were ruled invalid under a challenge from Conyers's primary opponent,  the Rev. Horace Sheffield, because they were not collected by registered voters, which the law requires. Hundreds more were separately ruled invalid.

"It is a very unfortunate circumstance that an issue with a circulator of a petition would disqualify the signature of valid registered voter. However, I am 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," Garrett said in her final report.

She added that, "Although I am not the final arbiter, I eagerly await the courts’ review of the constitutionality of the laws and statutes pertaining to petition circulators.

The American Civil Liberties union filed a federal lawsuit arguing that it is unconstitutional to require petitioners to be registered voters.

Conyers has three days to file an appeal. His team has also expressed his willingness to run as a write-in candidate if necessary, but his campaign attorney said on Tuesday that any talk of a write-in campaign is premature.

“That’s putting the cart before the horse,” said John Pirich, Conyer’s campaign attorney. “We believe that he will be on the ballot in both the primary and the general election.”

In a statement released on Tuesday night, Democratic Congressional Committee chairman Steve Israel said it will continue to support Conyer's re-election bid, whether he is on the ballot or not.

“The DCCC fully supports Representative Conyers in his re-election campaign, and I have every confidence that when this long process is complete, Representative Conyers will continue to serve the people of Michigan in Congress," Israel said. "As the next Dean of the House, the Michigan delegation and pillar of the Democratic party, Representative Conyers will remain one of the most respected voices in Congress.”

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
Wesley Lowery is a national reporter covering law enforcement and justice for the Washington Post. He previously covered Congress and national politics.

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