August 5, 2014 at 8:07 pm

U.S. Rep. John Conyers can't vote for himself

U.S. Rep. John Conyers votes in Detroit
U.S. Rep. John Conyers votes in Detroit: U.S. Rep. John Conyers talks about the race for his congressional seat.

Detroit — U.S. Rep. John Conyers didn’t vote for himself Tuesday during Michigan’s primary as he wasn’t on the ballot he was issued.

That’s because the embattled 25-term Detroit Democrat represents the largely Democratic 13th Congressional District but is registered to vote in the 14th Congressional District after recent redistricting — the "ultimate prize" for the party that controls the process, in this case, Republicans.

"That's what happens when you do redistricting or gerrymandering or whatever you want to call it," Conyers told The News Tuesday. "The state makes these decisions, and we have to live by them."

The GOP-controlled state Legislature was able to develop a plan for redrawing congressional districts based on the 2010 census numbers. Those changes prompted confusion Tuesday at the Word Of Power Ministry, the precinct where Conyers voted, as at least one election worker said the congressman wasn’t expected to vote there. Meanwhile, voters there voiced frustration they couldn’t vote for Conyers.

The 13th Congressional District includes portions of Detroit as well as River Rouge, Ecorse, Dearborn Heights, Garden City, Highland Park, Inkster, Melvindale, Redford Township, Romulus, Wayne and Westland. Meanwhile, the 14th Congressional District covers portions of northwest Detroit, Oakland and Wayne counties.

Ron Scott, a spokesman for Conyers, blamed Republicans for Conyers’ name not being on his own ballot.

"When you have a party that wins an election and they become the majority, they then have the ability in that state to reconfigure the lines," Scott said. "So in this particular circumstance, mean-spirited as they (Republicans) are, not just because I'm a Democrat but generally it's mean-spirited, they reconfigured the 14th Congressional District Congressman Conyers had represented for years to look something like a snake.

“It goes from all the way to southwest Detroit up through Oakland County and all the way up to Pontiac. However, the congressman switched districts with Congressman (Hansen) Clarke because more of his old district was in the new 13 than in 14. That was a courtesy Congressman Clarke did."

Scott noted a U.S. representative isn't required to live within his district. Conyers is a longtime resident of his current home on Seven Mile, which is in his old district, and preferred not to move.

Jackson Bertram of Highland Park, a longtime Conyers supporter, left the voting booth confused as to why the congressman wasn’t among the list of Democratic candidates, initially thinking it had something to do with controversy over whether he had gathered enough signatures, which was raised earlier this year.

"I was shocked when I didn't see his name on the ballot," he said.

Instead, Bertram was left to choose from Clarke, Brenda Lawrence, Rudy Hobbs, Burgess D. Foster, on the Democratic side. And perhaps, adding to confusion was the Republican choice Christina Conyers, a cousin of the congressman.

John Conyers, the longest-serving black congressman, arrived Tuesday morning at the Word Of Power Ministry to cast his ballot and was greeted by voters and poll workers with a jolly "top of the morning."

After filling out his ballot, the machine read "no data found" after Conyers submitted several times. He had to fill out another ballot before it accepted the form.

If Conyers wins this primary, he will be one step closer to becoming the first black dean in Congress. But he will have to first defeat Democratic challenger the Rev. Horace Sheffield of Detroit.

"This is one of the most difficult races I've been in in my life," Conyers said. "It may be incredibly close. But look, the thing about democracy is that everyone can participate; it has to be open. And so this one was open. So if someone wants to run or some persons want to run, they are perfectly entitled to do that."

U.S. Rep. John Conyers votes during Michigan's primary on Tuesday in Detroit. / Brandy Baker / The Detroit News