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Oregon Secretary of State says candidate's eligibility must be decided soon

The Oregon Supreme Court will likely consider the question of whether former New York Times journalist Nick Kristof is eligible to run for governor. PMG FILE PHOTO - Nick Kristof

Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said in a Jan. 11 filing that she agreed with Kristof's lawyers that the question must be resolved by the high court.

Fagan ruled in early January that Kristof had not lived in Oregon long enough to run for governor, saying the two-time Pulitizer Prize-winning journalist had registered and voted in New York while working for the Times.

Kristof challenged the ruling in court the next day, arguing he considers his home to be in the tiny berg of Yamhill, where he was raised, owns property and has returned for summers for the past 30 years.

"The Secretary's priority is building trust with Oregonians by maintaining elections processes that are prompt, predictable, and fair," Fagan wrote to the court. "In this case, that means having an accurate May 2022 primary ballot for Oregon voters that includes all qualified candidates."

Oregon ballots must be printed by March 17. In her filing, Fagan said the court would need to reach a final decision before that date, so that ballots can be printed and mailed on time, either with Kristof's name on it, or not.

Kristof filed as a Democrat for governor last month. Fagan's office, which regulates elections, sent him a letter the next day asking for more proof of his Oregon residency.

"Until late 2020 or early 2021, Mr. Kristof lived in New York and has for the past 20 years," Fagan said. "Until recently, he was employed in New York. He received his mail at his New York address. He filed income taxes in New York. And perhaps most importantly, Mr. Kristof voted as a resident of New York for 20 years, including — and this is important — as recently as November 2020."

Kristof responded several hours later during a press conference of his own, characterizing the ruling as a political, not legal, decision. He accused Fagan, a fellow Democrat, of being part of an establishment that favors other Democrat candidates for governor, such as former Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek and State Treasurer Tobias Read.

"My willingness to challenge the status quo is the reason state officials want to toss me from the ballot," Kristof said. "This was a political decision, not one based on the law."

Fagan insisted her office reviewed Kristof as it would have any other candidate.

"In the end, our election officials told me it wasn't even a close call," she said. "And while there have been creative legal arguments and an impressive PR campaign, given the evidence, I venture that most Oregonians who are paying attention have reached the same conclusion."

In a previous letter to Fagan's office, Kristof's attorneys said there has only been one Oregon court case that considered the question of whether voter registration determines residency, an election for a state House seat in 1974. A Marion County judge ruled that "the question of domicile is largely one of intent," a precedent that supports Kristof.

The Supreme Court must now decide whether to accept the case outright, or make Kristof start his challenge in Marion County Circuit Court.

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