Obama Appointed Judge Allows Conyers to Be on the Ballot in Michigan - Something Smells Here! - Liar Liar!
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Obama Appointed Judge Allows Conyers to Be on the Ballot in Michigan - Something Smells Here!

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Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan narrowly escaped a political fiasco on Friday when a federal judge granted him a place on the Democratic primary ballot in August, allowing him to survive a campaign misstep that left him hundreds of valid signatures short on his petitions for re-election.

Mr. Conyers, a Detroit Democrat who was first elected in 1964, had found his re-election prospects at risk when his campaign failed to collect the required 1,000 valid signatures. At least two workers collecting them were not properly registered to vote, another violation of state law. What initially appeared to be a minor mistake quickly became a grievous error that threatened the career of one of the most senior members of Congress, who is a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus and the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

In his ruling on Friday, Judge Matthew F. Leitman of Federal District Court said that the “failure to comply with the registration statute was the result of good-faith mistakes.”

“They believed they were in compliance with the statute,” the judge wrote.

Judge Leitman added that the First Amendment rights of Mr. Conyers and the signature collectors working for his campaign were “severely burdened” under the current law.

The news, which arrived after a day of anxious waiting, was met with relief by the congressman’s supporters, said Bert Johnson, a state senator who is running Mr. Conyers’s campaign. Mr. Conyers, who is 85 and running for his 26th term, was “pretty happy” with the outcome, Mr. Johnson said.

Just hours earlier, the Michigan secretary of state, Ruth Johnson, had rejected an appeal from the campaign.

But after Judge Leitman’s decision, Mr. Conyers “had a nice smile,” Mr. Johnson said. “We believe it’s a very big win for the voters. It puts one of the more ugly parts of the campaign process behind us.”

The battle for Mr. Conyers began weeks ago, when it was discovered that of the more than 1,000 signatures his campaign had collected, hundreds of the names belonged to people who were not residents of his district or were not registered to vote.

Even more damaging was the revelation that at least two petition circulators were not qualified under state election law because they were not registered voters. In the end, Mr. Conyers was left with only 592 valid signatures.

That put Mr. Conyers in a precarious position. He quickly appealed to the Wayne County clerk, Cathy M. Garrett, a Democrat, who reviewed the signatures and reluctantly confirmed that he was not eligible to be on the ballot.

Ms. Garrett’s decision left Mr. Conyers with several options. He promised that if necessary, he would begin a write-in campaign, banking on his widespread name recognition in Detroit. There was some precedent for success by that route: Mike Duggan, the mayor of Detroit, was elected last year in a write-in campaign after he failed to win a place on the ballot because of an invalid registration.

Mr. Conyers’s lawyers mounted a challenge in federal court, saying Wednesday that the judge should throw out a state law requiring petition collectors to be registered to vote, arguing that the law violated the First Amendment. They cited an appeals court decision from 2008, Nader v. Blackwell, that struck down a similar law in Ohio.

On Wednesday, Judge Leitman seemed to struggle with the decision, calling it “an exceptionally difficult case.”

A lawyer for Mr. Conyers, John D. Pirich, said during the hearing on Wednesday that it would be “pretty outrageous” to make Mr. Conyers pay for technicalities involving the voter registrations of two signature collectors.

Experts in election law said Judge Leitman’s favorable ruling was not surprising considering the case’s similarities to Nader v. Blackwell, in which a panel of judges agreed that imposing voter registration requirements on signature circulators in Ohio was an impermissible restriction on political speech.

The primary will take place Aug. 5, with Mr. Conyers by far the most recognizable name on the ballot in a heavily Democratic district that includes Detroit. His most significant challenge comes from the Rev. Horace Sheffield, the pastor of New Destiny Christian Fellowship Church, whose family is well known in Detroit.

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