The Michigan Democratic Party is calling on gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed to clear up confusion over his eligibility to run for the state's top job.
“While we at the party believe elections should be decided by voters, not technicalities, we also believe a residency challenge could be lengthy, costly and divert attention away from the important issues affecting Michigan residents," Brandon Dillon, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said in a statement.
The issue cropped up this week in a Bridge Magazine article, which questioned whether El-Sayed, the former health department director for the City of Detroit, was eligible to run for governor because he lived in New York from 2013 to 2016.
According to state law, a candidate for governor has to be a "registered elector" four years prior to the election. The Secretary of State's Office said El-Sayed registered to vote in Michigan in 2003, but gave up his driver's license in 2012, moved to New York, where he was a student and later a teacher at Columbia University, and registered to vote in New York.
His Michigan voter registration was not canceled when he moved to New York, but was put on a "cancellation countdown" after he gave up his driver's license. If he had tried to vote during that time, his ballot would have been challenged.
He came back to Michigan in 2016 and voted in the November general election after switching his voter registration from Ann Arbor to Detroit.
Political consultants have said the issue could end up in court and the Democratic Party wants the issue cleared up sooner, rather than later.
"We are calling on Dr. El-Sayed to take appropriate legal action, including asking the courts for a ruling on his eligibility as soon as possible," Dillon said. "We hope the court would handle this request swiftly and diligently so all of our great candidates, including Dr. El-Sayed, can put this issue behind them and focus on the issues that really matter to the people of Michigan.”
El-Sayed said earlier this week that his legal team feels he's 100% eligible because he never lost his voter registration and he owned a residence in Ann Arbor while he was living in New York. The campaign has framed the issue as a racist attempt by party insiders to end his progressive candidacy.
“We have looked at this question closely and are confident Abdul El-Sayed is qualified to run for governor of Michigan," said Robert Lenhard, outside counsel for the campaign and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. "Michigan law has never held that absences from the state for school or work cause you to lose your residence. This issue is just a red herring.”
But Dillon said it's more a concern that if it's not cleared up and El-Sayed wins the primary election in August, Republicans could challenge his eligibility and the Democrats could end up with no one on the ballot for the November general election.
Adam Joseph, spokesman for the El-Sayed campaign, said, "Voters should be the ones to decide who represents the party in November. We’ll take whatever step is necessary to put these shameless political attacks to rest.”
The issue won't officially come to a head until El-Sayed turns in his paperwork — at least 15,000 petition signatures from registered voters and an affidavit of identity — to run for governor by the state's April 24 deadline.
Fred Woodhams, spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office, said it will not independently start an investigation of El-Sayed's eligibility to run for office. Rather, it would wait until an official complaint is filed.
Contact Kathleen Gray: 313-223-4430, firstname.lastname@example.org or onTwitter @michpoligal