The Detroit News' Richard Burr and Jonathan Oosting discuss the Michigan governor's race in the first of a series of shows on the 2018 elections.
John Conyers III did not submit enough valid voter signatures to qualify for the congressional race to replace his resigned father, according to an attorney for state Sen. Ian Conyers, who is making a bid to be the only Conyers on the primary ballot.
The family drama is unfolding as eight Democrats compete for the 13th District seat vacated by former U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Detroit, who stepped down in December amid allegations of sexual harassment by former staffers.
An attorney for Ian Conyers, the ex-congressman’s great nephew, on Thursday filed a formal challenge asking the Wayne County Clerk’s office to toss out 617 of the 1,240 signatures that John Conyers III submitted to make the ballot in the August primary for the two-year term that starts in 2019.
Those signatures came from nonregistered voters, voters outside the district and voters who signed the petition more than once, according to the filing from Peter Ruddell, an elections lawyer at the high-powered Honigman Miller firm in Lansing.
Conyers III only turned in 623 valid petition signatures, less than the 1,000 required for the primary ballot, and should not be certified as a candidate for the two-year term, Ruddell argued. He also filed less than 1,000 valid signatures to qualify as a candidate to finish the current term, according to a second challenge.
“As is the standard process every election cycle, candidates can challenge petitions to ensure compliance with the spirit and letter of the law,” Ian Conyers told The Detroit News.
The Conyers III campaign did not respond to an email request for comment and has not provided a phone number to the media. A personal number for Conyers III, who has never held political office but been endorsed by his father, was disconnected in December.
Monica Conyers, Conyers III’s mother and wife of the former congressman, said she had not heard about the challenge but would pass along the information to the campaign.
“You’ve spoken to no one at the clerk’s office who told you my son had less than 700 signatures – no one,” Monica Conyers said in a brief follow-up phone call. “Before you go out and write things that are not true, make sure that you get everything corrected before you do that.”
The Wayne County Clerk’s office has not yet weighed in on any challenges, including a separate challenge to Westland Mayor Bill Wild’s nominating petitions that was filed by withdrawn candidate Michael Gilmore.
Elections staff will review each individual challenge and provide a staff report to County Clerk Cathy Garrett, said spokeswoman Lisa Williams-Jackson. It’s not immediately clear how long that process will take.
Staff reports on the challenges will be made public two business days before the clerk makes a final determination, Williams-Jackson said. Challenges are addressed in writing rather than a formal hearing.
Ian Conyers this week also asked the Wayne County Election Commission to add a “state senator” designation next to his name on the ballot to clear up any confusion should John Conyers III also make the August primary ballot.
The board rejected that request Wednesday in a 2-1 vote, Williams Jackson said. The board also denied a ballot designation request by Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones because it was filed after a legal deadline.
Michigan law allows a candidate to seek a clarifying designation if they have the same or similar surname as another candidate in an election. Ian Conyers could challenge the board rejection in court and said Thursday he is “keeping all options open.”
After talking to voters across the district as his campaign collected nearly 4,000 petition signatures, Ian Conyers said he wants to make sure they know who they’re voting for.
“The voters and their intent is what’s most important,” he said. “Protecting their ability to choose the candidate they’ve met without confusion or distraction, that’s what we’re focused on.”
Gilmore withdrew from the 13th Congressional District race on Monday and endorsed Jones. He challenged Wild’s nominating petitions a day later but said he did not do so at the request of Jones or any other candidate.
The challenge does not allege how many invalid signatures Wild may have filed, but it asks the clerk to review several petition sheets and could “potentially keep him off the ballot,” Gilmore said.
Mario Morrow of the Wild campaign had not seen the challenge but said he was not surprised Gilmore had filed it, noting his endorsement of Jones.
“We feel very confident about our signatures,” Morrow said, adding that the campaign reviewed their validity internally. “We knocked on doors. We did everything on the up and up.”
Other Democrats who filed for the race include state Sen. Coleman Young II, former state Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Shanelle Jackson and former Conyers staffer Kimberly Hill Knott. David Dudenhoefer, who chairs the 13th Congressional District Republican Party, will run unopposed in the GOP primary.
Two other candidates – former state Rep. Mary Waters and Southgate medical transporter Kentiel White – only filed to finish the current partial term from November through the end of the year.
Nicquel Terry and Melissa Nann Burke contributed.