Conyers quickly declares victory! Is it too soon?

DETROIT – John Conyers' 25th re-election campaign is off and running and put out this statement today:

"I am pleased that the County Clerk has determined that there are a sufficient number of signatures to allow my name to appear on the ballot in the upcoming August 5th primary election. I look forward to a full and robust campaign in the primary and general elections."

His statement came after Local 4 learned Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett's office [she is reportedly on vacation] verified Conyers' petitions. One of the Deputy Clerks who did not want to appear on camera told Local 4 Conyers qualified with 1,193 total signatures.

She included in that number the roughly 400 nominating petition signatures turned in by two hired circulators: 19-year-old Tiara Willis Pittman and 22-year-old Daniel Pennington, both of Detroit. She admitted if their signatures were to be thrown out for some reason Conyers would not qualify for the ballot. But she said "their names showed up on the qualified voter registration list on Tuesday, that's good enough for us."

Case closed, right? No.

In question is when Pittman and Pennington actually registered to vote. It's a seemingly strange technicality but it is Michigan election law. In a partisan election circulators are required to be registered voters at the time they gather the signatures. If not then their signatures are not valid. Pittman and Pennington registered to vote in Detroit. The debate is when.

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey told Local 4 today and, in fact, produced the records showing they came to the window at her office on Monday afternoon carrying with them mail in voter registrations dated Dec. 13, 2013. Winfrey says the clerk at the window mistakenly entered the December date into the state qualified voter registration database. Winfrey said that information has since been changed to Monday, April 28 in the database and on that basis Pittman and Pennington are not qualified as circulators and their signatures should not count.

I asked her on camera: "By all measure these people were not qualified circulators, correct?"

Winfrey: "That is correct because they were registered to vote on Monday, April 28th, 2014."

So you may now wonder how the Wayne County Clerk's Office could stand by its decision. The Deputy Clerk in charge said even though Pittman and Pennington's names did not show up in the qualified voter database Tuesday night and suddenly showed up Tuesday morning that was enough. At the moment they checked the names were there as qualified voters [in December] and that's what they are going with to make their determination Conyers should be on the ballot.

Conyers' opponent, Horace Sheffield, is deeply concerned about this decision.

"The question I have is if what I'm hearing about Cathy Garrett saying he's gonna be on the ballot regardless, how can that happen when I just filed the challenge at 4:30 yesterday?" said Sheffield. "We'd like the state to look at this, if not we'll look at all of our remedies. I would rather run against him but I'm not gonna have somebody pull a fast one. I'm not talking about the congressman necessarily."

Sheffield admitted the Congressman himself had nothing to do with this situation. Still, Sheffield will bring his complaints and challenge to the state election commission and to a circuit even, saying something is not passing the smell test here. He proclaimed he cannot run for office as a protector of the people if he is not willing to protect himself.

So here we go. Whether there is a write-in candidacy for Congressman John Conyers in the future will likely be determined in a courtroom between Detroit and Lansing in the days and weeks to come.

Request for investigation

A request for an investigation regarding the challenge to Conyers' circulators.

Read letter here.
Read another letter here.

About the Author:

Rod Meloni is an Emmy Award-winning Business Editor on Local 4 News and a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional.