Dems call for El-Sayed to ask for eligibility review

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan Democratic Party is challenging Democratic gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed to ask the courts to review his eligibility to run for governor after news of his past New York voter registration called it into question.

Party Chairman Brandon Dillon issued a statement Thursday calling on El-Sayed to avoid ambiguity and “put this matter to rest quickly,” following records published Monday by Bridge magazine showing that the doctor, a Shelby Township resident, was registered to vote in New York from October 2012 through at least March 2015.

The Michigan Constitution requires any candidate for governor to be a registered elector in the state at least four years prior to the election. For the 2018 election, candidates must have been registered here by at least Nov. 6, 2014.

El-Sayed will “take whatever step necessary to put these shameless political attacks to rest,” said Adam Joseph, his campaign spokesman.

But Joseph declined to comment on whether that means the former Detroit Health Department director will ask the court to review his eligibility.

His campaign said El-Sayed maintained “continuous residence” in Michigan by keeping an apartment here even when he worked out-of-state. Secretary of State records also show El-Sayed has been “continuously registered to vote in Michigan since 2003,” according to spokesman Fred Woodhams.

But El-Sayed’s Michigan registration was also on a “cancellation countdown status” between 2013 and 2016 because he had surrendered his driver’s license to get one in New York, Woodhams said. El-Sayed, a doctor, earned a medical degree at Columbia University and worked there as an assistant professor.

If El-Sayed had tried to vote in Michigan during that period, which he did not, he would have had to verify his address and affirm he was eligible to vote here, Woodhams said. His registration would have been been canceled after the November 2016 election had he not updated his registration and voted in Michigan.

Dillon said a residency challenge “could be lengthy, costly and divert attention away from the important issues affecting Michigan residents.”

El-Sayed asking the courts to review his eligibility is, he said, “regrettably ... the only way to put this matter to rest quickly and without ambiguity.”

Legal expert Robert Lenhard, a partner at Covington & Burling LLP, called the issue “a red herring.”

Lenhard, who previously served as chairman of the Federal Election Commission and led former President Barack Obama’s transition team, said there’s no question that El-Sayed is eligible to vote. Lenhard currently is working as outside counsel for El-Sayed’s campaign.

“We have looked at this question closely and are confident Abdul El-Sayed is qualified to run for Governor of Michigan,” he said. “He is a life-long resident of Michigan. He was born here, went to school here and married here. He has been a property owner, a taxpayer, a registered voter and a resident of Michigan throughout the qualifying period under state law. Michigan law has never held that absences from the state for school or work cause you to lose your residence.”