Two years ago, voters in a suburban Detroit congressional district were stunned to learn that their congressman, Thaddeus McCotter, had failed to qualify for the primary election ballot.
Anyone running for Congress needs to submit 1,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot.
It turned out his staff had illegally and clumsily photocopied old petition signatures, instead of collecting new ones. McCotter not only retired, but abruptly quit before his term ended.
That left just one name on the GOP primary ballot: Kerry Bentivolio, known informally as “Krazy Kerry,” a reindeer farmer, Santa Claus impersonator, and failed high school teacher.
Bentivolio is now a congressman, and establishment Republicans are spending millions to try and dislodge him in this August’s primary.
Now it seems something similar has happened to John Conyers, a Democrat who has represented Detroit in Congress for half a century. Most of the signatures he submitted seem to have been collected by circulators who weren’t registered to vote.
One has a criminal record and is a wanted fugitive. It seems very likely that Conyers will not be on the ballot this year.
If so, it's possible that the only name on the Democratic primary ballot will be that of The Rev. Horace Sheffield, a longtime Detroit clergyman with a reputation of his own. Sheffield got his picture in the papers twice in February. Once when he announced for Congress, and once when he was booked on domestic violence charges.
Sheffield’s spokesman, the equally notorious Adolph Mongo, was then paid by John Conyers to collect petition signatures. No, you can’t make this stuff up.
By the way, this district is so Democratic, Abraham Lincoln couldn’t possibly get elected as a Republican. So unless Conyers, or someone else, mounts a successful write-in campaign, Sheffield may well join Krazy Kerry in Congress.
There has to be a better way. The Detroit Free Press is offering a solution that is well-intentioned, but just plain dumb. The paper suggests that both former Detroit Council President Ken Cockrel and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon launch write-in bids.
Now, it is true that either of those men, Cockrel especially, would be a far superior choice. However, if both of them were to run as write-ins, it would ensure neither would win.
What we need instead is a mechanism whereby, in such cases as these, names can be added to the ballot after the filing deadline.
One state once did something like that with presidential primaries. The secretary of state added anyone thought to be a potential candidate, and it stayed there unless that person asked that their name be removed.
That might actually be a better system than depending on petition signatures. There may have been a time when excited neighbors went door to door with clipboards to send Mr. Smith to Washington. Today, however, what we usually have is Mr. Longtime Incumbent paying a political consulting firm to collect signatures.
Voters deserve the best choices possible for Congress. They often aren’t getting them. What I have suggested may not be the best way of dealing with a situation like this. But it would be a whole lot better than what we have now.