DETROIT - Longtime Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., on Friday appealed a decision that he lacked enough valid signatures on petitions to get on the August primary election ballot, part of a larger legal campaign to restore his name and run for a 26th term.
Conyers' filing with the Michigan Secretary of State's office seeks to reverse this week's decision by Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett to keep him off the ballot because some petition collectors hadn't complied with state voter registration requirements. Secretary of State officials say the department will review the appeal and decide by June 6.
The filing comes a day after Conyers, who was first elected to the House in 1964, joined a federal lawsuit taking aim at the requirement that petition collectors be registered voters. The suit was filed against Garrett and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson by the American Civil Liberties Union's state chapter on behalf of two petition circulators and others.
Garrett's review found Conyers was more than 400 signatures short of 1,000 needed.
Conyers argues in his appeal that the clerk's decision "is factually and legally unsound." Several of the circulators of nominating petitions had their voter registration confirmed, the appeal says.
The lawsuit and ACLU officials say the U.S. Supreme Court and the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Michigan, have struck down such requirements because they violate the rights of free speech and political association.
The ACLU also asked the court to order Garrett and Johnson to stop enforcing the law, which the group believes is unconstitutional. A hearing is planned for Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Detroit.
Under state law, people who circulate nominating petitions to get candidates on primary election ballots must be registered voters. Michigan lawmakers last month amended the law to eliminate voter registration requirement for those circulating ballot initiative and referendum petitions and qualifying petitions for several statewide offices. It does not apply to the election involving Conyers and some other state offices, which the ACLU said does not make sense.
Conyers' campaign chairman Bert Johnson, who is also a state senator, said the Michigan requirement that people who circulate petitions be registered voters is "draconian."
Conyers' opponent in the primary, the Rev. Horace Sheffield III, filed the challenge after learning at least two people hired to get signatures for Conyers weren't registered at the time to vote in Wayne County.
If Conyers' appeal fails, he will have to run as a write-in candidate, which Johnson said they are prepared to do if necessary.
Given voters' familiarity with the Conyers name in a heavily Democratic district, winning an expensive write-in campaign is feasible, said Adrian Hemond, a Democratic political strategist with Grassroots Midwest in Lansing.
"It's the Conyers name for crying out loud. He's got a following. If Conyers only makes a token effort at it, it won't go well. But if he gears up and raises the money, he can do it."
Hemond said that as a 25-term congressman, Conyers is better known than former Republican Rep. Thad McCotter of nearby Livonia, who abandoned a write-in campaign in 2012 after he did not qualify for the primary ballot due to fraudulent signatures.