Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) won't appear on the Democratic primary ballot after failing to submit enough valid signatures, Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett said on Tuesday.
The decision means Conyers may have to run as a write-in candidate if he wants to keep a seat he's held for five decades.
If Conyers wins reelection, the 84 year old civil rights leader and House Judiciary Committee ranking member would become the Dean of the House, having served longer than any other current member. His former boss, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), is retiring this year.
Conyers's Democratic primary opponent, pastor Horace Sheffield III, challenged the validity of the incumbent's signatures. The clerk ruled that since two of his petition-gatherers weren't registered voters in Michigan, as required under state law, the signatures he obtained didn't count.
Conyers submitted 2,000 signatures, needing 1,000 valid ones. After the challenges, he had 592.
Legal challenges to the petition-gathering rule are likely, though. The American Civil Liberties Union has already challenged that law in federal court, saying it's unconstitutional to require signature-gatherers to be registered voters.
Michigan state Sen. Bert Johnson (D), Conyers's campaign chairman, told the Detroit News on Monday that the campaign will continue to prepare its own potential legal challenge and write-in campaign.
"If they should be victorious, it has great implications for our campaign, he said. "It's always better to be on the ballot than be a write-in."
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee promised to stand by Conyers in the heavily Democratic district.
“The DCCC fully supports Representative Conyers in his re-election campaign, and I have every confidence that when this long process is complete, Representative Conyers will continue to serve the people of Michigan in Congress," DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. "As the next Dean of the House, the Michigan delegation and pillar of the Democratic party, Representative Conyers will remain one of the most respected voices in Congress.”
This post was updated at 6:50 p.m.