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Nick Kristof lawyers argue candidate is Oregonian
Lawyers for former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof have submitted a 15-page letter to the Oregon Secretary of State's Office asserting he is legally qualified to run for governor this year.
The office, which regulates elections in the state, is questioning Kristof's qualifications, in large part because he registered to vote in New York while working at the Times. The Oregon Constitution requires that candidates for governor be a resident of the state for at least three years before their election, or no later than November 2019 in Kristof's case.
"Mr. Kristof is an Oregon resident and has been for his entire adult life," said the letter from Misha Isaak and Jeremy Carp of the Perkins Coie law firm, dated Monday, Jan. 3. Among other things, the letter cited a 1974 Marion County Circuit Court case that found where a candidate votes does not determine residency. The Portland Tribune first reported on the case on Dec. 28, 2021.
Kristof filed as a Democrat for governor on Dec. 20, 2021. The next day an election compliance specialist sent him a letter which said, in part, "We typically determine whether candidates meet residency requirements by checking their voter registration records, but your Oregon voter registration record has insufficient information. In addition, it has come to our attention that you voted in New York State as recently as 2020."
In their response, Isaak and Carp note that many people have multiple residences, sometimes in different states, but that Kristof has always considered Oregon his home, even when going to college or working out of state. Among other things, the letter said Kristof has returned to his family farm in Yamhill every summer over the past three decades, built an addition large enough for his growing family there in 1994, and purchased three nearby parcels of land between 1993 and 2020. Kristof also has called Oregon his home in numerous columns and interviews beginning in 1982, the letter said.
According to the letter, there has only been one Oregon court case that considered the question of whether voter registration determines residency. It took place in 1974 after former Oregon Secretary of State Clay Myers ruled then-Clatsop County state Rep. Bill Wyatt off the ballot because he had registered to vote in Lane County while attending the University of Oregon in Eugene. Wyatt challenged the decision in court.
Marion County Judge Jena Schlegel disagreed with Myers, ruling that "the question of domicile is largely one of intent" and Wyatt "by his testimony maintained his ties with Clatsop County and never made an affirmative decision to change his domicile elsewhere. Continuous physical presence (within the district) is not required…."
Myers did not appeal the ruling.
"Thus, today, the Marion County Circuit Court decision is the only judicial decision to address the significance of registration and voting in evaluating an Oregon candidate's residency. That decision squarely resolves the issue in favor of Mr. Kristof's position," the letter reads.
In their letter, Isaak and Carp also say that residency requirements are historically rooted in racism, especially in Oregon.
"They applied originally both to voting and serving in elected office and were adopted by powerful white elites to keep themselves in power and to exclude from political participation people of color, 'foreigners,' and other disempowered newcomers," the letter reads.
Also included was an independent opinion from retired Oregon Supreme Court Justice R. William Riggs that Kristof is qualified to run for governor.
Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan must now decide whether to keep Kristof's name off the May 17 primary election ballot. If she does, Kristof's lawyers likely will file a legal challenge, just as Wyatt did 47 years ago.
Kristof already has raised more than $2.5 million from more than 5,500 donors.
A link to the letter and other materials from the law firm to the Oregon Secretary of State's Office can be found here.
(Editor's note: Reporter Jim Redden testified in support of Bill Wyatt at the 1974 trial before becoming a journalist. A link to his memories of the trial can be found here.)
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