John Conyers' must fight legal battle to prevent write-in candidacy

U.S. Representative John Conyers, a 50 year member of Congress, is now looking at a write in candidacy to gain a 26th term in office.

Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett told Local Four News on camera that Conyers appears to lack enough valid petition signatures to appear on the ballot.

"The signatures don't come up to what the Congressman would need," Garrett said.

View/download: Wayne County Clerk's press release on Conyers' signatures

She noted her office does not take sides in elections and only attempts to enforce election law. She said, based on the latest information her office received from the Detroit City Clerk, two Conyers' circulators, Daniel Pennington and Tiara Willis Pittman, only registered to vote last Monday. That was long after they turned in roughly 400 signatures for Conyers.

According to state law petition circulators in partisan races must be a registered voter at the time they gather signatures. Because many of Conyers' signatures were collected by then-unqualified voters, those signatures are likely invalid.

"Based on the information that this office received from Janice Winfrey's office, he doesn't [qualify for the ballot]," Garrett said.

However, she hedged that statement by saying this is not a final, final decision because the window for the signature challenges doesn't close until May 7th. Until that deadline passes, nothing is final.

But I asked her "is it likely, in your estimation, knowing what you know now that this information could change?"

Her answer: "No."

So, although the ultimate decision has not been made and notifications to candidates have not gone out yet, it's unlikely anything will change that would give the congressman a pathway to the August 5th primary ballot.

I talked to Garrett at 1:30 pm. Let's rewind to 11:30am, when I found Congressman Conyers at a political event with the Homeland Security Director in Detroit. I asked the

Congressman: "Can you win a write in candidacy?"

"Why would I have to do that?" He answered. "I've already filed."

"Well, but it looks like half of your signatures aren't good sir." I said.

He replied: "No it doesn't."

"It doesn't," I responded.

"No, as a matter of fact I've got a certificate from the clerk."

The problem is I discussed this with Garrett today and the State election commission yesterday. There was no official declaration of his candidacy so I pressed him on it:

"There has been official declaration your signatures are good?

The congressman replied: "Yes."

I pressed him further, explaining I was told yesterday by the state there has been no official declaration.

But Conyers was insistent: "I have it ok, I'm sorry I didn't bring it."

I pressed him still further: "You're saying all of your signatures are good and everything is fine from the clerk?"

He said yes.

Well, it was clear yesterday that wasn't the case and nothing we uncovered today changes thing. So I asked the congressman another question: "What happens if they don't certify your signatures?"

"We'll probably be in court, that's where I think we'd end up," he said.

On that point, the congressman is correct. The legal action started when his opponent Horace Sheffield challenged all of Conyers' circulators. Now Conyers will have his lawyers in on the fight.

His staff put out this statement from John D. Pirich, of Honigman, Miller, Schwartz and Cohn, LLP., just before we went on the air with this story:

"On April 18, 2014 Congressman John Conyers, Jr. turned in 2000 signed petitions for the Democratic Primary in the 13th Congressional District of Michigan.

"When the campaign began to receive questions regarding one or two of the petition circulators, we made attempts to clarify with the Detroit City Clerk's office and the Wayne County Clerk's office. We received registration forms for the two individuals in question that were dated December 13, 2013. We believe that there are one or more other individual circulators who are being challenged. In regards to those challenges, we are prepared to put forward evidence and testimony before the Wayne County Clerk's office and the Michigan Secretary of State to verify their registration status. It must be made clear that any registration deficiency is not the fault of the individuals; the fault lies with the Detroit City Clerk's office and their compliance with the law.

"Further, on April 30th, we received a letter from Delphine Odem, the Wayne County Elections Director, stating that Congressman Conyers has a sufficient number of signatures to be placed on the primary election ballot in August.

"Although we have heard various issues with Mr. Pennington and other circulators in question, as well as the Detroit City Clerk's office reviving challenges, the fact of the matter is that there is a primary review process that has many steps that must be taken before the process is completed. In that regard, we are reviewing some 800 signatures that were turned in with registered voters that can be rehabilitated.

"I am confident that at the end of these proceedings Congressman Conyers will be certified and on the primary election ballot in August."

So what does that all mean? It's simple, as of right now, the congressman is not on the ballot and the battle is on.

About the Author:

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