Attorneys for the Maryland Board of Elections on Monday sought to dismiss Krishanti Vignarajah’s lawsuit in which the Democratic candidate for governor asks the court to declare her eligible to run.
Attorneys representing the state and its voter registration director, Mary Wagner, wrote in a motion that the case should be dismissed because Vignarajah has not formally filed to run for governor and no one has legally challenged her qualifications.
“Ms. Vignarajah alleges that her political opponents and others have questioned whether she meets both the voter-registration and residency requirements to run for governor,” the filing states. “But setting aside the fact Ms. Vignarjah has not yet filed a certificate of candidacy—which is a prerequisite to running for office, regardless of whether she meets the other qualifications—her complaint does not establish a credible risk that her opponents, the Board, or anyone else will attempt to bar her from running for Governor by challenging her qualifications.”
The filling continues that Vignarajah’s lawsuit is “entirely speculative—contingent on a chain of events that have not occurred and may never occur.”
Vignarajah filed the lawsuit in Anne Arundel Circuit Court against Wagner, the board and Gov. Larry Hogan’s campaign on Oct. 6, about two months after Bethesda Beat first reported she had a residence and voted in Washington, D.C., most recently in 2014.
Maryland law states a candidate for governor must be a resident of the state and registered voter for five years before an election. Vignarajah, 37, has been registered to vote in Maryland since 2006, but D.C. voter records show she was also registered in the District and voted there between 2010 and 2014 when she worked at the State Department and as an aide for former first lady Michelle Obama.
She has maintained publicly and in the lawsuit that she meets the eligibility requirements. Her campaign did not immediately respond to an email on Monday afternoon requesting comment about the motion to dismiss.
In her complaint, Vignarajah, an attorney and Gaithersburg resident, claims Wagner and Hogan’s campaign have made statements that could confuse the public about her candidacy. She alleges that a controversy exists and the court has the ability to make a declaratory judgment that she is eligible to run for governor.
Jim Barnett, Hogan’s campaign manager, wrote in an email Monday that the campaign’s response to Vignarajah’s lawsuit is not due “for quite some time.” He did not immediately respond to other questions about the lawsuit, but wrote, “As a pending matter, we likely will not have additional comment.”
Wagner said in September that the state elections agency requested information from the attorney general’s office about whether Vignarajah would be eligible to run for governor given her D.C. voting record. Hogan’s campaign lawyer, Dirk Haire, said in a September statement provided to The Baltimore Sun that Vignarajah “does not even meet the residency requirements” to pursue the office.
Vignarajah’s complaint asserts that statements by Wagner and Hogan’s campaign “have explicitly and repeatedly cast doubt on [her] eligibility to run for governor…” while she seeks support from “voters, volunteers, and donors.” Therefore she is requesting a “prompt, independent judicial resolution of this legal dispute.”
The board’s response on Monday notes Vignarajah’s own claim that she is eligible to run and asserts it “fatally undermines her argument that her voter-registration status is under threat.” The filing continues that no one has attempted to remove her from the state’s registration rolls and her complaint “fails to articulate any theory by which her opponents could keep her off the ballot by challenging her voter registration.”
The motion points out there is a way for a court to declare her ineligible to run, but that would only happen if she had formally filed her certificate of candidacy with the board and someone challenged it within nine days of it being filed. So far, Vignarajah has publicly announced that she’s running for governor, but not filed the certificate necessary to include her on the ballot, according to the board.
“Even if there is a risk that her political opponents might one day challenge her candidacy in court, at this point, it is just that—a risk,” the board’s motion to dismiss says. “Only a court challenge can potentially defeat Ms. Vignarajah’s candidacy on the basis of her residency, and it is purely speculative whether one ever will be brought. Without any credible likelihood of such an action, this lawsuit is unripe.”
Other candidates who have announced plans to run for the Democratic nomination for governor, but have not formally filed with the board to run include Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, tech entrepreneur Alec Ross, state Sen. Rich Madaleno, Baltimore attorney James Shea, former NAACP director Ben Jealous and consultant Maya Rockeymoore Cummings.