Kristof appeals residency decision to Oregon Supreme Court

Nick Kristof (Kristof campaign photo)

Gubernatorial hopeful Nick Kristof on Friday asked the Oregon Supreme Court to force Secretary of State Shemia Fagan to return his name to the May ballot, just one day after Fagan’s office announced the former New York Times columnist wasn’t qualified to run.

The state Elections Division within Fagan’s office determined Thursday that Kristof, a Democrat who grew up in Yamhill but lived most of his adult life elsewhere, didn’t meet a requirement in the state constitution that candidates for governor live within Oregon for three years prior to an election. 

Kristof maintains that he has always been an Oregon resident because he considered the state home, despite living primarily in New York for most of the past two decades. He last voted in New York in November 2020, a year after he needed to establish Oregon residency to meet the constitutional qualification for the 2022 ballot. 

In their legal brief, Kristof’s attorneys wrote that Fagan’s decision was based on a “novel and untested legal theory” that Kristof didn’t meet residency standards. 

“What it means to be a ‘resident’ for the purpose of ballot access has never been addressed by an Oregon court –let alone this court,” they wrote. “Yet, in her role as the filing officer for statewide elections, the Secretary of State has found that Kristof – who has for decades claimed his family’s Yamhill farm as his home – is unable to satisfy this requirement.”

If the court overturns Fagan’s ruling, it would need to do so by March 17 in order for Kristof to appear on the May primary ballot. Kristof’s attorneys wrote that the decision needs to happen much sooner, as Kristof will struggle to raise money, win endorsements and attend campaign events as long as Fagan’s ruling is in effect.

“That is, the secretary of state may have predetermined the outcome of the primary election –or at least put a thumb firmly on the scale – even if this court reverses her decision,” said the petition. “So even if this court restores Kristof to the ballot before March 17, the damage caused by the Secretary of State to his campaign and to a fair election contest may be irreversible.”

Fagan on Thursday said longtime public servants in the Elections Division told her disqualifying Kristof “wasn’t even a close call.” Kristof dismissed those comments during a press conference later on Thursday, noting that his campaign found three former Democratic secretaries of state and a former Oregon Supreme Court justice who disagreed with Fagan’s interpretation of the law. 

“I can’t put myself in the shoes of the secretary of state,” he said. “But I do know where the law is, and where this will end up, and that will be on the ballot in November.” 

State law says that anyone adversely affected by a decision from the secretary of state or other election official can appeal the decision to the relevant state circuit court, which would be Marion County for statewide candidates. Kristof’s attorneys instead opted for an alternative petition for a writ of mandamus, asking the state’s highest court to order Fagan to change her decision. 

Attorneys for the secretary of state have until Jan. 21 to respond, according to a court spokesman.

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