U.S. House candidate to sue to restore name to primary ballot

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Paul Clements

A Democratic congressional candidate in southwest Michigan said he intends to file suit in court to get his name restored to the primary ballot. 

Paul Clements, a professor at West Michigan University, ran unsuccessfully against longtime Republican Rep. Fred Upton in Michigan's 6th District for the last two cycles, but the Board of State Canvassers disqualified him Friday from the 2018 race. 

The board ruled that Clements was nine signatures short of the 1,000 required, knocking out dozens because the signers wrote the wrong designation for the city or township where they're registered to vote — Kalamazoo instead of Kalamazoo Township, for instance.

"This just doesn’t make any sense," Clements told The Detroit News. "A lot of people don’t know if they live in the city or the township. It’s just a very simple mistake to make, and it shouldn’t be a geography test to sign a petition."

State election officials said the law provides electors a safe haven if they leave the city/township boxes blank, and the board 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 was disqualified. Clements says it's matter of voting rights. 

"I was disappointed in the ruling, but if this means we can get the regulations changed so it’s reasonable and simpler, then I’ll be glad it turned out this way," said Clements, who intends to continue his campaign in the meantime. 

"I would like to see them remove the city/township box altogether because it’s an anachronism."

He said election officials used to have to visit a township or city to check voter signatures on file there, but now the voter file is centralized in digital form. 

Another Democrat, Matt Morgan, on Monday filed suit in the Michigan Court of Appeals against the Board of State Canvassers and other state parties in an effort to get back on the Aug. 7 primary ballot. 

The board had disqualified Morgan — the lone Democrat candidate seeking to challenge freshman GOP Rep. Jack Bergman in Michigan 1st Congressional District — because he listed the post office box for his campaign, rather than his home address on most of his petition sheets.

In Wayne County, Clerk Cathy Garrett confirmed Westland Mayor Bill Wild's position on the primary ballot, after investigating a challenge to his petition. 

Garrett's staff had determined that Wild qualified for the race to replace Democratic former U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Detroit in the 13th District after a review of his petition signatures.

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.

The decision to file the challenge against Clements' petition was his alone and not in collusion with any other campaign, Davis said. It is "futile" for Clements to attempt to unseat Upton again, as no one's won a U.S. House seat on the third try, he said.  

"This is all predicated on my commitment to finally turning this district blue. I’ve been doing this since 1992. I want to put our best candidate forward and, in a crowded field, I didn’t think that was possible," Davis said. 

"The petitions process has been established to show that you have the wherewithal to take on the office that you’re pursing. Sometimes marking the box counts."

Davis is a supporter of Matt Longjohn, another Democrat running in the 6th District primary who volunteered for Davis' 1992 campaign when he was a student at Kalamazoo College.

Longjohn said Monday that Davis notified him, Clements and the chair of the 6th District Democrats of his intent to challenge the petitions in late April, but he denied any involvement.

Davis never has had "any official affiliation with Longjohn's campaign other than as a volunteer," Longjohn said on Facebook. 

"It was entirely Andy’s decision to challenge Paul’s signatures," Longjohn said. 

Beth LeBlanc contributed