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Lesli Messinger PDA Advisory Board Federal judge puts U.S. Rep. John Conyers back on primary ballot
Friday, 23 May 2014 21:47

Federal judge puts U.S. Rep. John Conyers back on primary ballot

Written by  Kathleen Gray| Detroit Free Press
 Representative John Conyers Jr. in Washington  in 2011. Representative John Conyers Jr. in Washington in 2011. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

U.S. Rep. John Conyers on-again, off-again roller coaster ride for the Aug. 5 ballot took a new twist Friday when U.S. District Judge Matthew Leitman put him back on back on the ballot,

His decision, released late Friday, contradicts the Secretary of State’s review of Conyers petition, which found earlier in the day that Conyers had less than half the required signatures of valid registered voters on the petitions he turned in to qualify for the Aug. 5 primary ballot.

But Leitman said the signatures from at least two ciruclators who were found to have not registered properly to vote, a requirement under state law, should be reinstated, giving Conyers enough valid signatures to be on the ballot.

“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 added. “He shall be placed on the ballot.”

The ruling ended a day in which the SOS confirmed a decision last week from Wayine County Clerk Cathy Garret that he didn’t have enough signatures to qualify for the Aug. 5 primary ballot.

PDF: Read the judge’s order putting Conyers on ballot

The SOS review concluded that petition signatures gathered by at least five circulators were invalid because they were either not registered to vote, not registered to vote while the petitions were being circulated or had addresses on the petitions that didn’t match their voter registrations. As a result, the SOS ruled Conyers had only 455 valid signatures, far short of the 1,000 required by state law.

“The Michigan Election Law is designed to protect the purity of the ballot access process.,” the SOS review states. “The laws governing this activity place affirmative duties on petition circulators. As evidenced over the past two election cycles, 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. In this instance, consultant Steve Hood freely admitted that he failed to ensure that the petition circulators he hired to work on Conyers’ campaign were registered to vote.”

At stake for Conyers, who is 85 and was first elected to Congress in 1964, was whether he would have a spot on the Aug. 5 primary ballot or will have to mount a costly write-in campaign. Leitman ruled that he must be certified for the ballot by May 29.

According to state law, Conyers had to turn in at least 1,000 valid signatures of registered voters in the 13th congressional district to get a spot on the ballot. Those signatures must be collected by people who also are registered voters.

Conyers turned in 2,000 signatures and more than 800 were disqualified for a variety or reasons, ranging from the signature wasn’t from a registered voter or that voter didn’t live in the district, the petition was misdated or contained an improper address.

The petitions provided “clear examples of the failure to follow the basics, something that thousands of campaigns have routinely done since 1966,” the SOS review said.

Rev. Horace Sheffield, the Detroit Democrat who is running for Conyers’ seat in Congress, challenged the petitions, arguing that many past candidates have been able to abide by the rules requiring petition cirulators be registered voters and that Conyers should too.

Another 644 signatures were thrown out by Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett because they were obtained by circulators who were either not registered voters or weren’t properly registered to vote. As a result, Garrett ruled that Conyers had turned in only 592 valid signatures and she threw him off the ballot.

Conyers’ campaign appealed that ruling to the Secretary of State. They claimed that two of the circulators had registered to vote at a registration fair in December and the registrations weren’t recorded until April, after the petitions had been turned in. Two other circulators are registered voters, but their addresses on the petitions didn’t match the address where they were registered to vote.

Along with that appeal, Conyers and the ACLU filed a lawsuit in circuit court questioning the constitutionality of the requirement that circulators be registered voters. The U.S. Supreme Court, as well as federal courts in Ohio and the western district of Michigan have ruled in cases with similar issues and have thrown out that requirement.

In addition, Michigan’s Legislature passed a law earlier this year that said circulators of ballot proposals and inititatives petitions do not have to be registered voters in Michigan. Candidates for state office can either turn in petitions or pay a $100 filing, which is what most candidates choose. Incumbent judge get the best deal, merely having to file their intent to seek reelection, plus getting designated as an incumbent on the ballot. Non-incumbent judicial candidates have to get petition signatures ranging from 200 for some district courts to 4,000 for the biggest circuit courts.

Link to original article from Detroit Free Press

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