Clerk staff: Conyers III doesn’t make race for Congress

Jonathan Oosting, and Melissa Nann Burke

John Conyers III does not have enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the congressional race to replace his father, resigned U.S. Rep. John Conyers, according to elections staff at the Wayne County Clerk’s Office.

Clerk Cathy Garrett is expected to make a final decision by Friday after staff recommended she keep Conyers III off the Aug. 7 Democratic primary ballot in the 13th Congressional District.

The review was prompted by a formal petition challenge filed by an attorney for State Sen. Ian Conyers, D-Detroit, the former congressman’s great nephew who is also running for the seat.

Conyers III submitted 1,914 petition signatures to qualify for primary ballot as a candidate for a full two-year term that begins in January, but only 905 were valid, according to a staff report from the Wayne County Elections Division.

Congressional candidates need 1,000 valid signatures to qualify under state law, and Conyers III’s petition should be deemed “insufficient,” staff said.

More than 830 of the signatures submitted by Conyers III came from residents who are not registered to vote or live outside the 13th Congressional District, according to the review. Others were deemed invalid as duplicates or because of other “miscellaneous identification issues.”

Conyers III submitted another 1,905 signatures for a separate election to complete the current term started by Congressman Conyers, who stepped down in December amid allegations of sexual harassment by former staffers. Conyers III was endorsed by his father.

But that petition should also be determined insufficient because only 880 of the signatures are valid, according to a separate Wayne County Elections Division review and recommendation.

John Conyers III could not immediately be reached for comment. The 27-year-old said last week he was confident that Garrett would find that he submitted enough valid voter signatures.

An attorney for Sen. Ian Conyers challenged Conyers III signatures earlier this month. Many were collected from non-registered voters, voters outside the district, and voters who signed the petition more than once, as well as specific technical objections, according to the filing from Peter Ruddell, who is an elections lawyer at the high-powered Honigman Miller firm in Lansing.

Other Democrats running to replace former Rep. Conyers for a two-year term and the rest of this year’s term include former state Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Shanelle Jackson, Westland Mayor Bill Wild, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones and state Sen. Coleman Young III.

Ian Conyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment but previously told The News that petition challenges help “ensure compliance with the spirit and letter of the law.”

Being the only Conyers on the ballot could help the first-term state senator in the crowded primary, said Jonathan Kinloch, chairman of the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party.

“But still, Ian Conyers will have to raise the necessary resources to capture any momentum that the Conyers name might bring, because at the end of the day, his name is not John Conyers Jr.,” Kinloch said.

“This race today is a different race from what it was yesterday. But as I’ve been saying from the beginning, I believe a Detrioter will be elected to this seat.”

Conyers III, who has not previously run for public office, has found himself at fund-raising disadvantage, raising just over $3,000 in the first quarter of 2018. Tlaib, a Detroit community organizer who was term-limited out of the state House in 2014, brought in more than $588,900 in contributions and had $457,000 in cash as of March 31, according to disclosure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Conyers III told The Detroit News last week his opponents are ahead because they are largely “career politicians” who have been fundraising for years.

“I recognize that I am entering in this race with some of the least fundraising experience, but for the entire first quarter I have been attending community meetings throughout the 12 cities in the 13th District, with the goal of specifically listening to the issues that plague the people whose votes I hope to earn,” he said.

This is not the first time the Conyers’ family has faced a petition signature challenge.

Primary opponent the Rev. Horace Sheffield got Congressman Conyers tossed off the August 2014 primary ballot by Garrett and Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson after they followed state law and disqualified hundreds of signatures because five people circulating the petitions were deemed not registered or had listed erroneous registration addresses.

Detroit Federal Judge Matthew Leitman ruled that Conyers and two petition circulators whose signatures were disqualified had a “substantial likelihood of success” in showing Michigan’s requirement for circulators to be registered voters law is unconstitutional, and ordered Conyers back on the ballot.

Circulator addresses are not at issue in the Conyers III challenge. Instead, Wayne County elections staff found that many voter signatures were invalid on their own.