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Time is running out for Nick Kristof to know whether he will make the ballot for Oregon governor.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Nicki KristofOne way or another, the Oregon Supreme Court should decide quickly whether former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof is eligible to serve as Oregon governor. Potential Democratic primary voters and candidates deserve to know that answer well before the March 17 deadline for ballots to be printed for the May primary election.

A court battle was likely in any case, but made inevitable by Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, who ruled on Thursday, Jan. 6, that Kristof does not meet the state's residency requirement for governor. Her decision would keep Kristof's name off the Democratic primary ballot.

Kristof is now asking the state Supreme Court to intervene, and on this point, we agree with him. This is a legal question that needs to be decided by Oregon's highest court, and not wind its way through lower courts in a process that could take weeks or months.

The court has given the state until Friday, Jan. 14 to respond. The justices will then decide whether to take the case, or make Kristof begin in Marion County Circuit Court.

We don't know if Kristof would be a good governor or even capable of winning his party's primary in a state where his connections to grassroot Democratic constituencies — such as public employee unions — don't run nearly as deep as his most prominent opponents. However, Kristof's supporters believe the secretary of state's office has played favorites for the Democratic leadership. There are valid arguments on both sides, and the state's highest court is in the best position to apply the law without accusation of political meddling.

The small amount of established case law in Oregon seems to support Kristof's position. In 1974, then Secretary of State Clay Myers ruled that Bill Wyatt, a Clatsop County state representative, couldn't run for the Legislature because he had registered to vote in Lane County while attending the University of Oregon in Eugene. Wyatt challenged the decision in court and won, with a Marion County judge ruling that "the question of domicile is largely one of intent."

However, other factors must be considered, such as taxes and driver's licenses.

Common sense also comes into play. Many students vote where their schools are, but rush back to their family and friends every spring, summer and winter break. Why? Because that's home. Not only that, but schools go to great lengths to make sure that a student from, say, Oregon, can't attend college in, say, California, and claim in-state tuition just because they moved. No, say the schools. Your home is where you're from.

So be it.

The same is true for those serving in the military.

And the pandemic has taught us to be flexible with concepts about "home." Thanks to the boom in virtual workplaces, you can live in Portland and work in Prineville.

With Kristof's challenge of Fagan's ruling, he is garnering a cascade of "earned media" as we all cover the legal battle. If Fagan's goal had been to hobble a well-funded outsider campaign, Thursday's decision might end up having the opposite effect.

Again: We're not sure how good a candidate he would be. But we do understand that a case of this importance must be settled by the state's highest judicial authority. The Oregon Supreme Court should take up Kristof's petition for a writ of mandamus, hear arguments from all sides and make a prompt decision about his eligibility for the ballot.

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