DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit late yesterday arguing that Congressman John Conyers should not be tossed from the August primary ballot because Michigan’s law prohibiting individuals who are not registered to vote from circulating candidate nominating petitions is unconstitutional.

The case was filed on behalf of two ardent supporters of Congressman Conyers, one who has voted him since 1964 and one who circulated nominating petitions on his behalf.

“Circulating nominating petitions for candidates is core political speech and courts across the country have consistently ruled that it is unconstitutional to forbid people who are not registered to vote from circulating such petitions” said Michael J. Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan. “We are confident that once Michigan’s law is struck down, Congressman Conyers will be placed on the August primary ballot.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Ederl Edna Moore and Tiara Willis-Pittman, two registered voters in the 13th Congressional District who are being deprived the ability to vote for Congressman Conyers in the primary election after hundreds of petition signatures were invalidated because the Wayne County Clerk determined that some of the petition circulators were not registered to vote at the time of signature collection.

The Wayne County Clerk initially determined that Congressman Conyers submitted more than enough valid signatures on nominating petitions to qualify for a spot on the August 5 primary ballot as a candidate for Michigan’s 13th Congressional District. However, after Conyers’ opponent challenged the petitions based on Michigan’s unconstitutional requirement, the Clerk’s staff recommended disqualifying 644 signatures.

Ederl Edna Moore, 72, has supported Congressman Conyers throughout his political career and even worked on his first congressional campaign in 1964. She has voted in every primary and general election since she became eligible to vote and would like to vote for Congressman Conyers in the primary election.

Tiara Willis-Pittman, 19, circulated nominating petitions on behalf of Congressman Conyers in March. She believed that she was registered to vote when she circulated the petitions because she had filled out a voter registration application on December 13, 2013, and handed it to a woman doing voter registration for submission to the City of Detroit Clerk’s Office. It wasn’t until the challenge was filed to Congressman Conyers’ petitions that she learned that the City of Detroit Clerk had not yet, in fact, processed the voter registration form that she had filled out. She has since taken action to ensure that she is registered to vote and would like to vote for Congressman Conyers in the primary election.

The ACLU of Michigan lawsuit seeks a ruling that the state law violates the First Amendment’s protection of the right to political expression and association. It further asks the court to order the Wayne County Clerk to count the otherwise valid signatures collected by the petitioners who were not registered to vote.

The ACLU of Michigan filed a similar free speech case in February challenging the state law requiring the circulators of referendum petitions to be residents of Michigan. In response to the case, the Michigan legislature amended election law to eliminate the residency requirement.

In addition to Steinberg, the case is being litigated by ACLU Cooperating Attorney Mary Ellen Gurewitz of Sachs Waldman, Brooke Tucker, Dan Korobkin and Kary Moss of the ACLU of Michigan.

Update: Representative John Conyers joined the lawsuit as a plaintiff on May 15, 2014

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