Conyers' son sues to get back on ballot

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
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John Conyers III, a Detroit Democrat, is running for his father's old seat in the 13th District

John Conyers III on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in Wayne County to restore his name to the ballot in the Democratic primary race for his father's old seat in Congress. 

Attorneys for Conyers are asking Wayne County Circuit Court to declare him an eligible candidate for the U.S. House and to order his name restored to the Aug. 7 primary ballot after Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett disqualified him last week. He is seeking an expedited hearing on the matter. 

"I’m confident that the courts will rule in the favor of voters because that’s what this about: It’s about choice," Conyers told The Detroit News. 

Garrett, a fellow Democrat, ruled last week that Conyers had just 943 valid signatures, which is "insufficient" to meet the 1,000-signature requirement to make the congressional ballot for the full two-year term starting in 2019. 

She also said that 894 valid signatures submitted by Conyers for a separate special election to complete the current term vacated by Rep. Conyers also fell short of the required 1,000. 

Her staff determined many of the signatures were from individuals who are not registered to vote or who live outside the 13th District. Others were deemed invalid as duplicates or because of “miscellaneous identification issues.”

Garrett's decision was a win for state Sen. Ian Conyers of Detroit, the former congressman’s great nephew, who is also running for the seat. His attorney had challenged Conyers III’s petition signatures and prompted the review by Garrett’s office. 

John Conyers III is represented by Melvin Butch Hollowell, managing partner of the Detroit office of the Miller Law Firm and former corporation counsel for Detroit.

Hollowell said last week that his team had reviewed a copy of the state's Qualified Voter File, compared the signatures with those on Conyers' petitions, and found he submitted more than the 1,000 valid signatures required by state law. 

The lawsuit alleges that Garrett's office refused to accept at least 188 valid petition signatures of voters who also appear in the state's Qualified Voter File and which were "submitted timely." 

Conyers alleges that Garrett and the Wayne County Election Commission deprived him of his right to due process under the state and federal constitutions when they refused to accept the 188 additional signatures.

His lawyers say state courts have held that doubts about technical deficiencies or failure to comply with the “exact letter” of procedural requirements should be resolved in favor of permitting the public to vote.

"Mr. Conyers met every requirement," Hollowell said. "We will exercise all of our legal options in connection with making sure that the voters of the 13th Congressional District have the right to cast a ballot for the candidate of their choosing – in this case, Mr. Conyers."

He said it's "a disgrace" to see the proliferation of petition challenges in recent years -- not just in the 13th District but in other political races, as well. 

"It's increasing year by year. What it does is chip away at the right to vote and the electorate's right to vote for the candidate of their choosing," Hollowell said. 

"What it really is is voter suppression ... an attack on the voters. This is a principle that has to be fought for, and we will fight very hard for it." 

To date, Conyers has not filed an appeal of Garrett's decision with the office of Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. Under state law, he had three business days to do so after Garrett issued her final determination May 21.

Hollowell said the only date that matters is June 26, which is the date the state's printer must have the primary ballots printed in order for the clerk to mail them in time to reach overseas voters.

If he fails in his appeals, Conyers III would have to launch a costly write-in campaign if he plans to stay in the race.

The former congressman endorsed his 27-year-old son as he stepped down in December amid allegations of sexual harassment by former staffers. 

The crowded 13th District Democratic primary also includes former state Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Shanelle Jackson, Westland Mayor Bill Wild, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones and state Sen. Coleman Young III.

The winner of the primary will take the seat. No Republican is running. 

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