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Lansing — A candidate vying to replace former Detroit U.S. Rep. John Conyers on Friday announced a lawsuit against Gov. Rick Snyder alleging that the Republican governor is denying voters in the 13th Congressional district their right to vote.

A lawsuit filed by Detroit activist and attorney Michael Gilmore on behalf of five Detroit voters argues that Snyder is denying voters in the 13th Congressional District their constitutional right to vote and be represented in Congress by not holding a special election sooner than November 2018. Conyers retired Dec. 5, citing health concerns, amid a string of sexual harassment allegations by former female staffers.

The suit in Detroit U.S. District Court seeks an order requiring Snyder “to cease deprivation, upon the people of the Thirteenth Congressional District” of their right to congressional representation and their right to vote.

Snyder listened to advice from 13th Congressional District Chairman Jonathan Kinlock when he decided to hold the vacancy replacement election on the normal schedule of the August primary and the November 2018 general election rather than holding special primary and general elections before then.

Gilmore argues in the suit that Snyder “has created a substantial delay in filling the congressional vacancy, based on the race or color of the residents” in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

When he announced the election schedule, the Republican governor cited various reasons for waiting to hold the elections on the regular schedule.

“Having ample time for candidates to make a decision about running for office and file their paperwork gives people more options as to who will next represent them in Congress,” Snyder said in his Dec. 8 statement. “In order to allow several months for that to take place and to reduce the financial burden on local taxpayers, the primary and general elections will be held when regularly scheduled elections are already occurring.”

There will be two separate primary and general elections held to replace Conyers next year. One is for the remaining seven weeks of his term following the Nov. 6, 2018 election and the other is for the full two-year House term starting in January 2019.

“Voters will have two separate ballot areas for the different terms,” said Fred Woodhams, spokesman for the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office.

Voters could potentially elect a different person to the full term after filling the partial term. It happened in 2012, when Democrat David Curson won the partial term to replace GOP U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Livonia in the 11th Congressional District, while Republican Kerry Bentivolio won the full two-year term.

McCotter resigned the seat after failing to qualify for the ballot because of questionable petition signatures.

The former congressman’s great-nephew, Democratic state Sen. Ian Conyers of Detroit, and Democratic state Sen. Coleman Young II of Detroit are running. Ex-Rep. Conyers endorsed his oldest son, John Conyers III, but the son said he hasn’t decided whether to run.

State Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, among others, may also join the race in the predominantly Democratic district.

The federal complaint goes on to argue that a state law allowing the governor to fill a congressional vacancy “is impermissibly (overbroad) and grants discretion to the Governor so wide that it is contrary to the requirement of the United States Constitution.”

In a statement, Democrat Gilmore’s campaign released along with the legal complaint, said Snyder “continues to treat residents of urban areas across the state as second-class citizens and is violating a laundry list of constitutional laws in doing so.”

Gilmore said Snyder “is once again attempting to balance the state's budget on the backs of Black people, in the name of ‘cost savings.’”

mgerstein@detroitnews.com

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