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)

Home is where the heart is – or at least that’s what Nick Kristof and his lawyers are arguing as they attempt to assuage doubts that the New York Times columnist turned Yamhill farmer has lived in Oregon long enough to be eligible to run for governor. 

The Oregon Secretary of State’s office gave Kristof until Monday to provide more proof that he became an Oregon resident no later than November 2019, three years before the November 2022 general election. If he doesn’t meet the constitutional residency standard, the Democrat can’t appear on the May primary ballot.

The office’s Elections Division typically uses voter registration history to determine whether statewide candidates meet residency requirements, but Kristof didn’t register in Oregon until December 2020 and voted in New York in November 2020.  

A 102-page response from the Kristof campaign, shared with the Oregon Capital Chronicle on Monday, relies on legal arguments about residency rather than providing documents that would indicate Kristof has lived in Yamhill in recent years. 

Misha Isaak, with the law firm Perkins Coie and who once was Gov. Kate Brown’s chief counsel, said in a memo on Kristof’s behalf that Oregon voters, not election officials, should decide whether Kristof is qualified to be governor. 

“The decision now before you is whether to afford — or deny — Oregon voters the opportunity to choose,” he wrote. “Even if one were to think Mr. Kristof’s eligibility is a close question — and we submit, it is not — democratic principles counsel strongly in favor of letting voters decide.” 

Isaak sought to cast Oregon’s residency requirements as a relic of a racist past, when the state’s founders sought to keep Chinese immigrants and black people from voting in Oregon elections or running for office.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1971 banned durational residency requirements for voting, allowing people to register to vote in a new state as soon as they move, but states are still free to require candidates for office to have lived in the state or district for some amount of time. 

“Though durational residency requirements for serving in office have received less scrutiny than for voting, they have the same disgraceful, exclusionary history — especially in Oregon,” Isaak wrote.

He later argued that Kristof meets the state’s residency requirements, saying Kristof has been a resident of Yamhill since 1971 — even if he lived, voted and paid taxes in other states and countries during that time. 

Kristof’s parents moved to Yamhill in 1971, when he was 12. He moved away for college a few years later.

His attorneys referred to his description of Yamhill as “home” in columns and interviews over the intervening decades to argue that he remained a resident of Oregon. They also said his family spent each summer in Yamhill, even after he and his wife bought a home in Scarsdale, New York, in 2000.

Kristof voted in New York from 2000 until November of 2020. His attorneys argued that that is irrelevant, citing a 1974 decision from the Marion County Circuit Court about the eligibility of former state Rep. Bill Wyatt.

Wyatt was appointed to fill a vacancy from Clatsop County in the spring of 1974, then won the Democratic primary. Shortly before the general election, the attorney general advised the secretary of state to remove his name from the ballot because he had been registered to vote in Eugene, where he was attending college, and didn’t re-register in his parents’ district until April 1974, according to an archived article in The Oregonian attached with Kristof’s filing. Then, as now, legislators needed to live in their districts for one year prior to the election. 

In that case, a Marion County judge ruled that the secretary of state didn’t have the authority to remove Wyatt from the ballot — the secretary of state or an affected elector would have had to sue over his inclusion. The judge added that Wyatt kept ties with Clatsop County and hadn’t done anything to change his home. 

Kristof wrote in an affidavit that he has always considered Oregon home. He believed he could register to vote in either Oregon or New York and chose New York because it was more convenient, he said. 

“As we see it, we may have had various other houses, but the farm will always be home,” he wrote. 

After the Secretary of State’s office makes its decision, Kristof, other candidates or others “adversely affected” by the decision can opt to challenge it in court. The issue would need to be resolved before March 17, the deadline for county clerks to print ballots for the May primary. 

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Les Zaitz for questions: [email protected] Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.