El-Sayed: I didn't relinquish Michigan residency in NY

By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING (AP) — Asking a judge to rule on his eligibility to run for governor, Democrat Abdul El-Sayed said he has been a continuous Michigan resident since childhood despite working in New York after graduating from medical school there in 2014.

A copy of the lawsuit became available for review last week, a day after El-Sayed filed his request for a declaratory judgment in Wayne County Circuit Court.

At issue are provisions in Michigan’s constitution and election law that say a gubernatorial candidate must have been a registered and “qualified” voter in the state for four years before the election.

El-Sayed, who went to court at the request of the Michigan Democratic Party, moved back to Michigan in September 2015 to be Detroit’s health director — roughly three years prior to the November 2018 general election.

In the suit, his attorneys argue that while he was physically living in New York City on Nov. 6, 2014 — four years before the election — he remained at all times a resident of Michigan “because he had chosen Michigan (as) his permanent home, and maintained an intent to return.” The motion says he and his wife, who was also a medical student at Columbia University, continued to own and rent out their condo in Ann Arbor, paying property taxes and storing their personal effects in the unit's locker.

The lawyers also say the couple had a dedicated bedroom in her parents’ home in Macomb County's Shelby Township, where they kept belongings and where they now reside full-time after previously living in Detroit. While his wife was finishing her studies in New York, El-Sayed was already planning a return to Michigan, according to the suit.

Though his Michigan voter registration was at risk once he got a New York driver’s license and voted there in 2012, it was never canceled due to a federally required waiting period and because he updated his Michigan registration in 2016.

The filing says El-Sayed’s decisions to register to vote in and apply for a driver’s license in New York were “matters of convenience, rather than any manifestation of intent to remain in New York City.” El-Sayed would have voted in Michigan in 2012 if he had been aware that casting an absentee ballot was an option, according to the suit.

“Michigan law has long held that temporary absences from the state for work or school do not defeat an intent to remain a Michigan resident,” says the suit, which names Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson as the defendant in her official capacity.

Her spokesman has said the Bureau of Elections will review El-Sayed’s petitions just as it does for any other candidate but will not on its own initiate a review of questions over his residency or registration status, which were first raised in a Bridge Magazine report.

El-Sayed is among four main Democratic gubernatorial candidates along with former legislative leader Gretchen Whitmer, businessman Shri Thanedar and retired business executive Bill Cobbs.

In the suit, El-Sayed’s attorneys say “any doubt, however unfounded” surrounding his eligibility “causes ongoing and irreparable harm to his campaign, including but not limited to suppressed fundraising, potentially withheld endorsements, and decreased voter support.”

State Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon said settling the issue is the best option both for El-Sayed’s campaign and Democrats as a whole.

“We’ve got the wind at our back and want to make sure that after the primary that there are no unnecessary issues standing in our way,” he said in a statement.