An Incumbent Falls Afoul of Election Laws Designed to Protect Incumbents
by FRANCIS X. CLINES
“Political pros know better than anyone that election laws are typically crafted by statehouse lawmakers with enough hedges, hurdles and moats to insulate party machines and shield incumbents against insurgent challengers. That’s the nature of the power game.
All the more shocking then to Washington’s political class that Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, was denied a place on the ballot this week. He was widely expected to win his primary this summer as a prelude to a re-election stroll into his 26th term in Congress. Instead, Wayne county officials ruled that most of the 1,236 voter signatures submitted for ballot qualification by Mr. Conyers — one of the civil rights pioneers and Democratic wheel-horses of Washington — were invalid under state law.
Mr. Conyers is hardly defeated. He promises a more difficult write-in candidacy if he can’t get on the ballot through a series of executive and court challenges of the election law. Apologetic county officials said they had no choice. Because some of Mr. Conyers’s petition circulators were not registered voters themselves, state law required that more than 700 signatures they gathered be ruled invalid, reducing the total to less than the 1,000 required minimum.
Usually it’s political amateurs and neophyte candidates who run afoul of such a stipulation. There are countless picayune traps in the nation’s election laws that too often amount to an Incumbent Protection Act. But in this case, it was the insurgent challenger, the Rev. Horace Sheffield, who turned the tables and challenged an incumbent whose electoral machine had long been mastering the law’s arcana.
In an attempt to survive on the Aug. 5th primary ballot, Mr. Conyers is enlisting all the king’s horses and men, from President Obama to the Democratic National Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union, which initiated a court challenge arguing that invalidating signatures because of a petition collector’s status is an unconstitutional violation of free speech.
If nothing else, this shocking twist of politics has braced the survival instincts of Mr. Conyers, who turned 85 years old today.”