DETROIT - Congressman John Conyers' effort to win a 26th term in the U.S. House may have hit a huge setback Friday as a preliminary report from the Wayne County Clerk's Office says Conyers did not collect enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
According to the report, Conyers has only 592 valid signatures--more than 400 short of the 1,000 required to make the primary ballot.
As Local 4 first reported, two of Conyers' petition circulators were not registered voters and therefore any signatures they gathered had to be disqualified under the law.
Conyers, who was first elected in 1964, would have become the dean of Congress if he was re-elected. The current longest-serving congressman, John Dingell, is retiring at the end of this year.
If Conyers is unable to get a court to reverse the county clerk's ruling he will be forced to run as a write-in or withdraw from the race.
At the center of Conyers' petition debacle is Daniel Pennington, who was hired to collect signatures for the congressman.
Local 4 spoke with Pennington on the phone Friday: "I violated my probation, yes, but I'm in the process of handling that though with my lawyer and my mother."
While Pennington's criminal history looks bad politically, the fact that he apparently wasn't registered to vote, required by Michigan law for petition gatherers, is more problematic for Conyers' campaign.
However, Pennington claims records that do not show him as a registered voter are wrong.
"Yes, I registered to vote," he said. "Yes, I sure did and I don't know why they're coming after me. I believe they're using me as a scapegoat."
Ultimately, though, Pennington's voter status may not matter because he admits making untruthful statements on petition forms. Pennington told Local 4 that he never lived at the address listed as his residence on petitions forms. Still, he remains adamant that he did nothing wrong.
"I am a registered voter there," he said. "As long as I am a registered at that address no matter if I move, say if I move, so long as I'm registered there I can still use that address."
While Conyers' faces the daunting task of running for re-election as a write-in, Pennington's fate appears to be significantly more grim.
The Michigan Department of Corrections said Pennington could face between 17 months and 15 years in prison for violating his probation.
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