State rejects challenge of El-Sayed’s eligibility

Beth LeBlanc Detroit News Lansing Bureau

The Michigan Bureau of Elections has rejected Shri Thanedar’s challenge of the ballot eligibility of fellow Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Abdul El-Sayed.

Thanedar last week questioned El-Sayed’s eligibility after a January report from Bridge Magazine showed the former Detroit health director 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. State records show El-Sayed, a Michigan native and former Detroit health department director, was continually registered to vote here since 2003 but had been placed on “cancellation countdown status” because of his New York registration.

In a letter dated Wednesday, state Director of Elections Sally Williams told the Ann Arbor businessman that El-Sayed has been continuously registered in Michigan since 2003 and rejected Thanedar’s challenge.

El-Sayed’s voter registration record wasn’t canceled because Michigan never received written confirmation that he had changed his residence for voting purposes and El-Sayed didn’t miss two consecutive federal elections, Williams said.

“Given these requirements, and the fact that Dr. El-Sayed’s voter registration record indicates that he has been continuously registered to vote in Michigan, the Bureau must reject your concerns as to his eligibility,” she wrote in the letter.

The El-Sayed campaign welcomed the decision.

“As we expected, the Secretary of State has rejected this baseless political attack in an unprecedented confirmation of Abdul's eligibility to serve as governor in his state,” campaign spokesman Adam Joseph said in a Wednesday statement.

“While we anticipate that this definitive statement of fact by the Bureau of Elections won’t stop political opponents from persisting in their baseless smear campaign, Abdul’s supporters and everyday voters can be fully confident in their support of Abdul.”

Thanedar took the rejection in stride.

“We are thankful the Secretary of State's office reviewed this matter and look forward to an open and vigorous debate on how we can move our state forward and help working families rise up,” he said in a Thursday text.

Thanedar previously said the challenge wasn’t personal but an attempt to clarify the issue. But El-Sayed countered last week by challenging the petition signatures that Thanedar turned in to the Secretary of State’s Office.

The challenged signatures are being reviewed and a report will be made to the Board of State Canvassers, said Fred Woodhams, spokesman for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. “That challenge involves signatures so the board ultimately will decide.”

El-Sayed filed in court to try to force Johnson to pre-emptively decide his eligibility, but Johnson rejected the request as “premature.” In a filing to the Michigan Court of Claims, an assistant attorney general said the Michigan Constitution doesn’t empower the secretary of state to interpret the Michigan Constitution’s requirement that a gubernatorial candidate be a “registered elector” in the state for four years preceding the election.