After a half-century in the House of Representatives, Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.), now the second longest serving member of Congress, may be an unsympathetic victim to show how election laws can be unfairly used to keep potential challengers off the ballot.
But recent court rulings on Conyers as well as a New Jersey recall attempt highlight how election laws are frequently designed to benefit those in power — and block potential challengers.
Due to its mix of an embarrassing level of incompetence and Conyers’ long service, his failure to get enough signatures got attention. Conyers needed 1,000 valid registered voters in his district to sign his petition in order to get on the ballot. His supporters collected enough raw signatures, but many people either didn’t live in the district or weren’t registered voters. After striking these and other nonconforming signatures, Conyers only had 455 valid signatures. The county clerk struck Conyers from the ballot.
The New Jersey recall was much different, but the same principles of who is allowed to gather signatures were at stake. A group targeting the mayor of Vineland never handed in the signatures in the first place. The recall proponents had plenty of time to get the 9,447 signatures — 160 days — but they seem to have failed.
They still sued, however, blaming a law similar to the one in Michigan. The only people allowed to collect signatures for recall petitions are registered voters in the affected municipality. This law, according to the recall proponents, blocked them from organizing in force and using more than just the people of Vineland to get the recall moving.