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John Conyers’ Ballot Slot in Peril

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The counsel to Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., insisted Friday afternoon that the 25-term incumbent will qualify for the primary ballot in August, despite a Wayne County clerk’s statement to a local news outlet that the congressman did not have enough signatures.  

“I am confident that at the end of these proceedings Congressman Conyers will be certified and on the primary election ballot in August,” attorney John D. Pirich said in a statement.  

Michigan statute dictates that petition gatherers, “circulators,” must be registered to vote in order to complete this task. Local outlets reported that Democratic primary rival, the Rev. Horace Sheffield, challenged the eligibility of Conyers’ circulators, and it’s uncertain whether Conyers will be able to meet the 1,000-ballot threshold needed to qualify for the primary.  

A final decision will come May 7, according to WDIV . The filing deadline was April 22, and the primary will be held Aug. 5.  

“It’s not over, but it doesn’t look good,” a Michigan Democratic operative said of Conyers’ ballot chances, echoing the vast sentiment of operatives interviewed by Roll Call on Friday afternoon. Most of the operatives noted that the chaos was not unexpected. But Conyers’ counsel indicated in the statement that there is more litigating to be done before conclusions ought to be drawn.  

“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,” he added.  

If thrown off the ballot, Conyers may have two paths to re-election: run as a write-in in the Democratic primary or as an independent in the general election.  

A write-in candidacy would likely require a drastic revamping of his campaign apparatus. Conyers raised $61,000 in the first quarter of this year and reported $112,000 in cash on hand. The disbursements section of his Federal Election Report showed very little in the way of campaign staffing and infrastructure.  

A Michigan Democratic operative suggested that a lifeline in this scenario would be outside interest group intervention, which occurred in his 2012 primary.  

Should he run as an independent, the petition filing deadline to qualify for the general-election ballot is July 17. National Democratic operatives brushed off any scenario where Conyers and Sheffield would splinter the Democratic vote enough in the fall to allow for a Republican upset. President Barack Obama carried the Detroit-based 13th District with 85 percent in 2012.  

A Conyers absence from the delegation in 2015 would be a staggering development in Michigan politics. There are 16 members of the Wolverine State congressional delegation, including the senators.  

So far, five members are vacating their seats, including Democratic Sen. Carl Levin. Additionally, Republican Rep. Dan Benishek is in a tough re-election race, as is, to a far lesser extent, Republican Rep. Tim Walberg.  

Given Conyers’ problems, there is a chance that half of the delegation will not return in January.