Oregon Supreme Court upholds decision to keep Kristof from running for governor

Kristof didn’t prove that he lived in Oregon by November 2019, court said

By: and - February 17, 2022 8:08 am

Nick Kristof speaks Thursday at his campaign headquarters in downtown Portland. He said the Oregon Supreme Court’s decision is “the end of the road” for now. (Alex Baumhardt/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

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.

KEY EXCERPTS

Here are elements of the Oregon Supreme Court ruling on Thursday, Feb. 17.
Editor’s note: The ruling refers to Nick Kristof throughout as the “relator.” For clarity, Kristof has been substituted in these excerpts for that term.

  • In communicating its decision to [Kristof], the Elections Division correctly emphasized that “it is not the Elections Division’s role to determine whether any candidate is sufficiently ‘Oregonian’ or “to examine the depth or sincerity of a candidate’s emotional connection to Oregon.” That is not this court’s role either.
  • The only year in which he spent most of his time in Oregon was 1994. Other than that, [Kristof’s] submission gave no specifics about how much [time Kristof] would typically spend in Oregon.
  • To satisfy Article V, section 2, a candidate for governor in the 2022 election must have been domiciled in Oregon in the “three years next preceding” the November 2022 general election – in other words, the time period running from November 2019 to November 2022.
  • Our task is not to conduct our own review of the facts; rather, it is to decide whether the evidence in the record, assessed under the correct legal standard, would have compelled a decision in [Kristof’s] favor.
  • [Kristof] has not requested this court to direct the secretary to reconsider his filing in light of additional information, nor has he sought an opportunity to present additional evidence to either the secretary or to this court. The only relief that he has sought is for us to direct the secretary to accept his filing.
  • Although registering to vote may involve paperwork or other ministerial tasks, the choice of where to register is a meaningful one, as it provides evidence of the political community to which a person feels the greatest attachment – the community in whose elections that person wishes to have a say.
  • What the secretary found significant is that [Kristof] registered to vote in a different state and cast ballots in that other state’s elections over a period of two decades.
  • He remained registered to vote in New York and retained a New York driver’s license until late 2020, actions that are at odds with an intent to change his domicile to Oregon a year or more earlier.

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. That meant Kristof 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, referring to Kristof as a “relator” for legal purposes.

“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 gave Kristof until Tuesday, Feb. 22, to request a reconsideration by the justices, but he said during a somber news conference Thursday that he won’t seek that.

“This is the end of the road for my campaign,” Kristof said. “I will not challenge the court. I have great respect for the Oregon Supreme Court, and so I will find other ways to try to do what I can to about the issues that I care about.”

It was a markedly different approach than he took after Fagan disqualified him, when Kristof decried her decision as an act by a “failing political establishment” threatened by his early success as an outsider.

In her own news conference on Thursday, Fagan said Kristof’s comments about political motivations crossed a line. Election workers in her office and around the country have faced harassment and threats for decisions they made, she said, though she’s unaware of any incidents directly connected to Kristof’s comments. 

“Increasing harassment and attacks on election workers often begin with empty allegations, saying that something was biased or corrupt,” she said. “And so we’re asking people to be careful.”

The court 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,” the opinion said.

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, whose office represented Fagan, welcomed the ruling.

“The Oregon SC today upheld the @OregonSOS decision to disqualify candidate Nick Kristof from the ballot because he does not meet the 3-year residency requirement,” Rosenblum tweeted. “I appreciate the court’s extraordinary efforts to resolve this dispute quickly & give guidance for future candidates.”

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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.

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Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.

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