House panel agrees to strike petition voting rule

Steve Pardo
The Detroit News

Lansing – — A state House committee unanimously approved Tuesday a Senate bill that would eliminate the state’s requirement that candidate petition circulators be registered voters.

In a 9-0 vote, members of the elections and ethics committee paved the way for the changes to state election law, which would continue to require that petitioners be Michigan residents and at least 18 years old. The House has until Thursday to vote on the bill.

The legislation comes in the wake of a spring fiasco when petitioners who weren’t properly registered to vote nearly sank the re-election campaign of U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr.

Wayne County and state election officials ruled Conyers had less than the 1,000 signatures required to get on the ballot because some petitioners were ruled ineligible. It took a spring ruling by a Detroit federal judge to bring his name back to the ballot for the August primary against the Rev. Horace Sheffield III.

The committee vote does have impact, said Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, chairwoman of the elections committee.

“It keeps the state in compliance with the court order,” she said “It is one we had on the radar for a while.”

In May, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson agreed with Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett who said more than 540 signatures of the required 1,000 for Conyers were invalid because two petitioners collecting signatures for the longest-serving African-American in Congress weren’t registered voters.

But U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Leitman allowed Conyers on to the Aug. 5 ballot because he ruled a challenge from the Conyers camp would have a “substantial likelihood of success” of proving the requirements that petitioners be registered voters is unconstitutional. Leitman based his decision on rulings by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

A week after Leitman’s ruling, Johnson decided not to challenge the order, allowing Conyers back on the ballot. Conyers handily defeated Sheffield in the primary and Republican Jeff Gorman in the general election.

Conyers, 85, was first elected to Congress in 1964. He is poised to become the dean of the U.S. House because Democratic U.S. Rep. John Dingell, who is the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history, is retiring at the end of the month. 222-2112