SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Elections Division has rejected Nicholas Kristof's filing to run for governor of Oregon on the grounds that he does not meet the three-year Oregon residency requirement for eligibility under the Oregon Constitution.
Kristof grew up in Oregon and made his name over a 37-year career as a reporter and columnist for the New York Times. He left the paper last year while mulling a run for governor as a Democrat, and formally announced his intention to run in October.
At a Thursday morning press conference, Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said she believed Kristof's statements expressing his affinity for Oregon were sincere, but that "they are simply dwarfed by the mountains of objective evidence that, until recently, he considered himself a New York resident.”
Kristof contested the ruling in a tweet early Thursday afternoon, and vowed to challenge the decision in court.
He struck a similar tone at a press conference a couple hours later, decrying the ruling as a political decision made by "insiders" who were spooked by his campaign.
"My willingness to challenge the status quo is the reason state officials are trying to toss me from the ballot," he said. "That's also the reason I'm going to win this race and become Oregon's next governor."
He said he intends to continue campaigning while the court challenge plays out, and reiterated some of his main campaign points including pledges to address homelessness, addiction and deficiencies in the state's educational system.
On Friday, Kristof announced he had filed a challenge with the Oregon Supreme Court.
At her own press conference, Fagan said she and the Elections Division staff will work with Kristof's attorneys to ensure that his appeal can reach the Oregon Supreme Court as fast as possible.
The process needs to move quickly, she said, because it has to be resolved ahead of a March 17 deadline for the state to begin printing ballots for the 2022 primary election.
Kristof's fledgling campaign faced immediate scrutiny over the residency requirement last year. Willamette Week reported in August that he voted as a New York resident in the November 2020 general election, and subsequently registered to vote in Oregon in December 2020.
Kristof's attorneys released a legal memo in August attesting that he met the residency requirement and was eligible to run, citing the fact that he grew up in Oregon, owns a farm and residential property in Yamhill County and has repeatedly referenced Oregon as home in his writing.
They also argued that New York law does not require voters to register in the jurisdiction of their principle residence, and that Kristof could therefore have been legally considered a resident of both states while registered to vote in New York.
The Oregon Elections Division disagreed.
In a letter sent to Kristof and released publicly, Elections Director Deborah Scroggin and Compliance Specialist Lydia Plukchi noted that Kristof was registered to vote in New York and held a New York driver's license from 2000 until December 2020, and voted in New York in November 2020.
Kristof owned homes in both states but spent most of his time away from Oregon, and he also paid income taxes in New York from 1999 to 2021, Scroggin and Plukchi wrote.
He paid income taxes in Oregon in 2019 and 2020 but didn't explain to election officials whether he filed those taxes as an Oregon resident, they wrote, and Fagan added during the press conference that he hadn't provided the relevant tax returns to election staff.
“In the end, our elections officials told me it wasn’t even a close call," Fagan said.
The Elections Division began investigating Kristof's eligibility after he formally filed to run for governor in December, Fagan said, and reviewed documentation from his attorneys seeking to prove his case.
Elections staff received verbal advice from the Oregon Department of Justice during the evaluation process, Fagan said, but declined to ask the department for a written opinion because it would have taken too long to produce given the March 17 deadline.
It's not uncommon for candidates to be disqualified based on residency or other requirements, Fagan added, particularly in local races, and Kristof is the seventh Oregon gubernatorial candidate to be disqualified in the past year.
At his own press conference, Kristof stated that his team had reviewed the situation and concluded that Oregon law favored "inclusiveness."
He also pushed back on the assertion that he had failed to provide his recent Oregon tax returns, stating that he didn't provide them because the Secretary of State's office didn't ask for them, and would have provided them if asked. He said he would likely make the returns public in the spring.
When asked about the tax returns request during the prior press conference, Plukchi said she did not ask for the tax returns specifically but asked Kristof's team to turn over any documents that they felt could help prove his case.