Voter challenges Conyers III's petitions in effort to keep him off U.S. House ballot

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

A challenge seeking to disqualify John Conyers III as a candidate for Congress in Michigan alleges that he failed to use his full legal name in the headings on his nominating petitions, using "John Conyers" instead of "John Conyers III." 

The formal challenge, filed this week with Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett, argues that every nominating petition submitted by Conyers is thus defective and invalid under Michigan election law and that he should not be certified as a candidate for the U.S. House in Michigan's 13th District.   

John Conyers III speaks about his father at the funeral  service.

The challenge by Robert C. Perkins Sr. of Ecorse contends that Conyers not using his full name could "confuse and mislead" voters because his late father, the former U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., was widely known as "John Conyers" and represented much of the same territory in Congress for decades. Rep. Conyers died in 2019.

"Voters asked to sign Conyers' nominating petitions may not have remembered or realized that Representative Conyers ... passed away," Perkins wrote, offering another reason why the Wayne County Election Commission should decline to certify Conyers.

Conyers requested in an affidavit of identity filed on April 19 that he wanted his name to appear on the ballot as "John Conyers," which Perkins further contends is a ploy to confuse and mislead voters.

Conyers' campaign denounced the challenge as frivolous, meritless and "nothing more than a political swipe at the clear frontrunner in the race."

"No one should be surprised by this brand of petty politics, and we are undeterred in our effort to represent the people of the 13th District," campaign adviser Randy Jones Sr. said.

The challenge is among at least nine filed in recent days against candidates for U.S. House, including Democrat Carl Marlinga in the 10th District, Democratic state Sen. Adam Hollier in the 13th District, GOP state Sen. Tom Barrett in the 7th District, Democratic former state Rep. Shanelle Jackson in the 12th District, Republican Paul Junge in the 8th District and Republican Gabriella Manolache in the 3rd District.

Conyers III ran for the 13th District seat in 2018, but he was disqualified over problems with the signatures on his nominating petitions, an action he tried to fight in court and lost. He has never held elected office.

After redistricting, the new 13th covers most of Detroit, Hamtramck, the Grosse Pointes and Downriver communities.

The Democratic primary field in the 13th also includes attorney and educator Michael Griffie, who moved last week to block Hollier from the ballot, alleging that he filed a false affidavit of identity attesting that he had no outstanding campaign finance issues.

More:Griffie files challenge in bid to kick Hollier off Democratic U.S. House primary ballot

Hollier's attorneys in a legal response said candidates for federal office are not required to attest that all campaign statements and reports have been filed at the time the affidavit of identity is submitted, and so even if he had submitted an incorrect attestation, that wouldn't be grounds to exclude him from the ballot.   

Sen. Adam Hollier gives his remarks during a press conference at the Shrine of the Black Madonna Church on Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2021 to urge the Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission to redraw Detroit area maps to include majority-black districts.

Hollier is also facing a second challenge in Wayne County from voter Shane Anders who claimed that signatures on petitions submitted by Hollier came from unqualified or unregistered voters and that his petition sheets were out of compliance with font/print size requirements.

Hollier said he's confident his campaign is in "complete" compliance with the law, and that he'll remain on the ballot, dismissing the challenges as signs that his opponents feel threatened by his candidacy. 

"Our legal response has been submitted to the Wayne County Clerk’s office, and we await their swift response," Hollier said. "These challenges are an attempt from my opposition to not allow voters to vote for the candidate who has the best chance at representing our constituents in Washington."

The challenge against Barrett, a Charlotte Republican, was filed by attorney Christopher Trebilcock at the firm Clark Hill, representing Barrett's opponent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Holly. 

The anticipated Slotkin-Barrett matchup is being watched closely as a swing district in the new 7th District anchored by Lansing. 

Michigan state Sen. Tom Barrett announces his campaign for the U.S. House on Nov. 15, 2021.

The filing claims that Barrett's nominating petitions violate Michigan election law because they list two separate municipalities for his address in the petition headers — both the city of Charlotte and Carmel Township — and include "extraneous" information (his ZIP code), which is not permitted to be listed in the heading.

Given these defects, Slotkin alleges Barrett failed to submit the required number of petition signatures and says the Board of State Canvassers should not certify him for the primary election ballot on Aug. 2.

"Elissa Slotkin’s frivolous complaint shows how little she understands the rural communities she wants to represent," Barrett spokesman Jason Cabel Roe said.

"The congresswoman, who has voted with President Biden lock step, is legally prohibited from signing her own petitions as she doesn’t even live in the district. She should spend less time with her lawyer and more time with her Realtor and find a home in the 7th District."

Staff writer James Dickson contributed.