Oregon Supreme Court upholds decision to keep Kristof off ballot in governor’s race

(Enterprise file photo)

Secretary of State Shemia Fagan was right to keep former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof off the ballot for governor, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

In a 33-page unanimous opinion, the court affirmed Fagan’s early January decision that Kristof hadn’t lived in Oregon long enough to run for governor. The Oregon Constitution requires candidates for governor to live in the state for three years prior to their election – in Kristof’s case, he would have needed to establish residency by November 2019.

He voted in New York in November 2020 and didn’t register to vote in Oregon until a month later, which convinced Fagan and nonpartisan staff in the Secretary of State’s Elections Division that he didn’t meet the constitutional requirement.

Kristof has maintained that he has been a resident of Oregon since childhood, and that maintaining a home in New York didn’t mean he gave up Oregon residency. He pointed to the property he owns in Oregon and the family farm he manages as further proof that he has lived in the state. 

“We recognize that [Kristof] has longstanding ties to Oregon, that he owns substantial property and operates a farm here, and that the secretary did not question his current Oregon residency,” the justices wrote. “Moreover, he has thought deeply and written extensively about the challenges faced by those living in rural areas of Oregon – and the rest of the country. But that is not the issue here.” 

In making his case to both state election officials and the Supreme Court, Kristof largely relied on legal arguments about Oregon history and the meaning of the word “resident.” He didn’t provide documents, such as tax returns, that could prove his presence in Oregon to election officials, and he repeatedly ignored requests from the Oregon Capital Chronicle for those documents. 

The justices called out the lack of documentation in their opinion. 

“Given the objective evidence in the record of relator’s continued presence in and related connections to New York in 2019 and 2020, and the limited detail on key components of his ongoing connections to Oregon, the secretary was not compelled to find that, as of November 2019, relator had reestablished his residence in Oregon and intended that Oregon, not New York, be the state in which he would reside indefinitely or, ultimately, to conclude that relator had changed his domicile to Oregon,” they wrote.

The Supreme Court’s opinion may not be the last in the legal battle between Kristof and Fagan. The court will allow Kristof to request that it reconsider the case by Feb. 22.

Kristof plans to respond to the ruling in a news conference at 10 a.m. Thursday, with Fagan holding her own news conference an hour later. 

The court also declined to consider Kristof’s arguments that residency requirements violate the U.S. Constitution, saying that question is too complicated to decide in the kind of court case Kristof brought.

“That does not mean that the courthouse doors are closed to consideration of this claim, just that it is not suited to the extraordinary legal remedy of mandamus,” they wrote.

This is a developing story and will be updated

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