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Michigan's absurd ballot law might end a 25-term Congressman's career

Rep. John Conyers
Rep. John Conyers
Bill Clark, CQ-Roll Call Group/Getty Images
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

This afternoon, officials in Wayne County, Michigan, announced that Rep. John Conyers, who has served in Congress for 50 years and chairs the House Judiciary Committee, failed to qualify for the 2014 ballot. This is because two of his signature-gathering campaign workers turned out not to be registered to vote in Michigan — so, under state law, the signatures they collected were considered illegitimate.

Much of the reaction has simply been amazement at how the 84-year old Conyers could have been so sloppy, but it's worth pointing out that Michigan's law is absurd. Yes, signature qualifications might be necessary to prevent a glut of no-hope candidates on the ballot. In practice, though, they're often used by savvy politicians like Barack Obama to knock off opposition through a technicality.

But in this case, everyone agrees the signatures themselves were perfectly fine. So what does it matter if the person collecting the signatures is from another state, or a Michigan resident who just hasn't registered? Elections shouldn't be decided on technicalities — there should be a legitimate choice presented to voters. While Conyers may run as a write-in candidate, and could well win, Michigan should change its laws to provide easier ballot access.

Update (May 23, 2014): A federal judge agreed that this law was absurd, and struck it down. He ordered Conyers's name placed back on the ballot.

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