Oregon election officials want Kristof to prove residency for governor’s race

Nick Kristof (right), Democrat running for Oregon governor, is being questioned about whether he has lived in the state long enough to qualify for office. (Ron Cooper/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof needs to do more to prove he’s an Oregon resident if he wants to run in the Democratic primary for governor in May, state election officials said this week.

Kristof announced his campaign in October and quickly began raising money, but he didn’t officially file until Monday. His filing remains pending as the Secretary of State’s Office tries to determine whether he met the constitutional requirement to reside in Oregon for three years prior to the relevant election.

It’s up to the Secretary of State’s Office to determine whether a candidate meets the requirement.

“We typically determine whether candidates meet residency requirements by checking their voter registration records, but your Oregon voter registration record has insufficient information,” state compliance specialist Lydia Plukchi stated in an email to Kristof’s campaign on Tuesday. “In addition, it has come to our attention that you voted in New York State as recently as 2020.”

The letter, first reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting, follows months of speculation over Kristof’s eligibility to run for office. Kristof was raised in Yamhill, but moved away for college decades ago. For the most part, his family lived in New York, minus stints abroad during his time as a foreign correspondent.

What does the Oregon Constitution say?

“No person except a citizen of the United States, shall be eligible to the Office of Governor, nor shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained the age of thirty years, and who shall not have been three years next preceding his election, a resident within this State.”

– Article V, Section 2

Misha Isaak, Kristof’s attorney and Gov. Kate Brown’s former chief counsel, argued in a 15-page memo the campaign released in August that Kristof has considered Oregon home since his parents moved the family to Yamhill in 1971 when Kristof was 12 years old. 

Kristof kept his Oregon driver’s license and voter registration from the 1970s until the 1990s, Isaak wrote. He and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, first bought property in Oregon in 1993 and have paid Oregon property taxes since then. They also built an addition to his family farmhouse in 1994 and lived in Oregon during most of 1994 and 1999, before the couple bought a home in New York in 1999 and he registered to vote in New York, according to the memo. 

Kristof, WuDunn and their children spent every summer in Yamhill, Isaak wrote. He also quoted multiple Kristof columns and social media posts in which he referred to Yamhill as home. 

“It is beyond doubt that Kristof is currently a resident of Oregon and has no plans to reduce his contacts with or presence in the state,” Isaak wrote. 

In both his August memo and correspondence this month with employees at the Secretary of State’s Office, Isaak wrote that the state has historically taken a lax view of residency. Isaak cited conversations during the drafting of Oregon’s constitution that described the residency requirement as a way to keep strangers from other states from moving to Oregon and immediately running for office. 

P.K. Runkles-Pearson, chief legal counsel at the Secretary of State’s Office, contacted Isaak in early December to ask if Kristof was planning to file soon because the state elections director was concerned about having enough time to verify his eligibility for office. 

“Media reports (and your substantial published memo) suggest that determining Mr. Kristof’s residency may not be as simple as consulting the [Oregon Central Voter Registration] database and checking a box,” Runkles-Pearson wrote. “Because the matter likely requires legal interpretation, it is possible that someone – whether Mr. Kristof or someone else – will disagree with the decision, whatever that might be, and seek to appeal it.” 

Ballots for the May election must be printed by March 17, and a legal challenge could take months. 

Staff at the Secretary of State’s Office have more questions about Kristof’s recent voting history in New York. He voted there in 2020 before re-registering to vote in Oregon in December of 2020.

Under New York law, voters can choose to vote from their vacation homes instead of their primary residences. That state law explicitly defines a residence for voting purposes as “that place where a person maintains a fixed, permanent and principal home and to which he, wherever temporarily located, always intends to return.” 

Kristof’s campaign spokeswoman, Melissa Navas, pointed to his response to questions at his campaign launch about his 2020 vote. Kristof said at the time that he probably should have changed his voter registration.

“I wasn’t focused on the paperwork,” he said. “I was focused on voting to remove President Trump and vote for Joe Biden.” 

Navas said Kristof will respond to the Secretary of State’s Office by a Jan. 3 deadline. The campaign team expects Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, a Democrat, to agree with an Oregonian guest column from former secretaries of state Jeanne Atkins, Bill Bradbury and Phil Keisling that residency depends on where a candidate considers home. 

“The Elections Division’s review is standard operating procedure, and three former Oregon secretaries of state have interpreted the residency standard to include, not exclude, candidates in order to protect and expand participation in our democracy; we have no reason to think Secretary Fagan would do otherwise, especially since Nick has received support from thousands of Oregonians statewide,” Navas said. =

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