U.S. House candidate ends campaign after court loss

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Paul Clements

Democrat Paul Clements has ended his congressional campaign in southwest Michigan after a federal judge refused to restore his name to the primary ballot.

"I regret that I need to end our campaign for Congress, as my challenge to the state’s decision not to place my name on the ballot was not successful," Clements said. 

On Monday, he "enthusiastically" endorsed Democrat Matt Longjohn as the "best candidate" to defeat longtime Republican Rep. Fred Upton and represent Michigan’s 6th District.

A professor at Western Michigan University, Clements ran unsuccessfully against Upton for the last two cycles, but the Board of State Canvassers disqualified him from the 2018 race. 

The board had ruled that Clements fell nine signatures short of the 1,000 required, knocking out more than 100 because the signers wrote the wrong designation for the city or township where they're registered to vote.

Clements this month sued in federal district court, arguing in part that confusion among voters signing his nominating petition caused them to mark the wrong box for their city or township. 

But Chief U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker ruled against Clements on Friday. 

"Mr. Clements has failed to make a convincing showing that the Court should re-write state election rules in the middle of the game," Jonker wrote. 

Jonker said the same geographical name for both a city and a township "certainly creates a risk of confusion, but most people know whether they pay township or city taxes." 

"The potential for confusion did not prevent four other Democratic candidates from qualifying for the ballot with the required signatures," Jonker wrote. 

State election officials said the law provides electors a safe haven if they leave the city/township boxes blank, and the Board of State Canvassers has accepted signatures as valid when voter marked both city and township boxes.

But if a voter marks just one box and it was the wrong one, the signature is disqualified.

Clements had argued the city/township situation creates a "trap" that "unduly burdens candidates and petition signatories/voters with requirement that the signatory correctly answer an unnecessary geography test question" after already providing their address elsewhere on the form. 

Jonker found the the statutes at issue to be "minimally burdensome, nondiscriminatory and reasonably calculated to advance legitimate regulatory interests."

"The jurisdictional designation helps speed the process and avoid mistakes," he wrote.

State officials had told the court that printing of the primary ballots had already begun, and that absentee voter ballots have already been delivered to the local boards of county election commissioners for distribution to those voters.

Clements' petition was challenged by Andrew Davis, who challenged Upton in 1992 and now chairs recruitment efforts for the 6th District Democratic Party Executive Committee.

Davis had said it was "futile" for Clements to attempt to unseat Upton again, as no one's won a U.S. House seat on the third try and he wanted Democrats to "put our best candidate forward" from a crowded field.  

"Our campaign has always been about advancing economic equality and prosperity, equal rights, democracy and environmental sustainability," Clements said in a Facebook post.

"In recent weeks we have also worked hard to strengthen particular rights of Michigan voters, and I regret that the judge’s decision on our case failed to support these rights."

Four other Democrats are competing in the Aug. 7 primary: Matt Longjohn, George Franklin, David Benac and Rich Eichholz.