Maryland Gubernatorial Candidate Defends Voting in D.C. While a Maryland Resident
Krishanti Vignarajah spars with radio show host about her eligibility; attorney general's office asked to weigh in
Screenshot via Twitter
Maryland gubernatorial candidate Krishanti Vignarajah maintained on a radio show Friday that she is eligible to run, despite having voted multiple times in Washington, D.C., while also registered to vote in Maryland.
Vignarajah’s concurrent voting registrations in Maryland and D.C. were examined in a Bethesda Beat story posted online Wednesday and was a prominent topic when she was interviewed Friday on “The Kojo Nnamdi” radio program.
A D.C. election official told Bethesda Beat on Wednesday that people who register in the District must cancel their registrations in other jurisdictions.
An official with the Maryland Board of Elections said Friday the department asked the Maryland attorney general’s office to look into the questions surrounding Vignarajah, 37, who lives in Gaithersburg.
On the radio show, NBC 4 reporter Tom Sherwood, a co-host, asked Vignarajah, a Democrat, several times why she voted in D.C.–most recently in 2014–while also being registered to vote in Maryland.
Under the Maryland constitution, to be governor, someone must be at least 30 years old and have lived and been registered to vote in Maryland for the five years leading up to the election.
Each time, Vignarajah responded to Sherwood by saying she has been a resident and registered voter in Maryland for more than five years, but she would not directly answer why she voted in D.C.
On Sherwood’s fifth attempt to ask the question, he also asked her if it was convenient for to vote in D.C.
“I think we need to focus on what I’m here to talk about,” Vignarajah responded. “And that is I’m running for governor of Maryland. In terms of the requirements to run in Maryland, I have been a registered voter for far longer than the five years required.”
On Wednesday, Steve Rabin, a spokesman for Vignarajah, told Bethesda Beat that she voted in D.C. multiple times because she was working long hours in the White House and at the State Department and couldn’t get back to Catonsville, where she was registered to vote in Maryland.
Vignarajah announced her 2018 gubernatorial campaign on Wednesday, joining former NAACP Director Ben Jealous, state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Kensington), Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, Baltimore attorney James Shea, and entrepreneur Alec Ross in the race for the Democratic nomination. Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has not formally announced his plans to run for governor, but is widely expected to also run for the nomination. Popular Republican Gov. Larry Hogan plans to seek re-election.
Mary Cramer Wagner, the director of the Maryland Board of Elections’ voter registration and petitions division, said Friday that questions about Vignarajah’s gubernatorial eligibility have been raised, so her office emailed the attorney general’s office to examine the issue on Thursday.
Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general’s office, said Friday that she did not know whether the office had received the email.
Vignarajah first registered to vote in Maryland in 2006. She did not vote in the state until the 2016 general election, according to her voter history obtained by Bethesda Beat. While she remained registered to vote in Maryland, she also registered to vote in D.C. in 2010 and voted in elections that year, as well as in 2011, 2012 and 2014, according to her D.C. voting history obtained by Bethesda Beat.
When asked about those votes by Sherwood, she replied that at the time, she was working long hours at high level federal positions. She previously served as first lady Michelle Obama’s policy director and was an adviser to Secretaries of State John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.
“When I was in the administration—lots of folks understand the grueling hours—you were working sometimes 16, 18 hours, sometimes overnight,” Vignarajah said.
Andy Levy, an election law attorney in Maryland, told Bethesda Beat Wednesday evening that he doesn’t believe a Maryland court would interpret the five-year registration requirement to include voting somewhere else.
Vignarajah said she checked with experts before she announced her campaign and she believes she is eligible to run for governor.
“I realize the responsibility of representing the state of Maryland is a huge one and one that I obviously made sure I dotted all my I’s and crossed all my T’s in making sure I was eligible,” Vignarajah said. “This is something that, you know, I have consulted a number of legal experts, elected officials, just to make sure I wasn’t throwing my hat in the ring for no good reason. The reason I was in D.C. was I had the privilege of serving the country and, like many other folks who served in the administration, we never lost sight of who we were there working for.”
When Sherwood asked if she had paid income taxes in Maryland while she was a registered voter in D.C., she didn’t answer.
“I know this question has come up and a lot of campaigns want to try to raise this and this is the nature of politics,” Vignarajah said.
Sherwood tried to ask again if she paid Maryland income taxes, saying the issue “is just a block into knowing who you are.”
Vignarajah responded, “In terms of understanding who I am, this is absolutely where I would like, you know, the voters to decide.”
Nnamdi said Vignarajah lived at “the coolest” building in D.C.—The Chastleton at 1701 16th St. NW, where Vignarajah listed her address on her D.C. registration.
“Just to be fair, I didn’t live there,” Vignarajah said. “I had a crash pad.”
The discussion then turned to policy questions, Vignarajah said she would like to improve education, protect the environment and boost employment in the state. She did not answer questions about whether she was for a $15-per-hour minimum wage, which Montgomery County has considered.
The voting question came up more during calls from listeners, one of whom chastised her for not answering Sherwood’s eligibility-related questions. Vignarajah replied: “The truth is you are able to be registered in two different states, so long as you don’t vote in the same election in both states. Am I eligible? The answer is an absolute yes. I more than fulfill the requirements to run for governor.”
Mileah Kromer, a political science professor at Goucher College in Baltimore, said in an interview Friday that the eligibility questions are troubling for Vignarajah’s campaign.
“My guess is she will want to put this question of eligibility behind her as soon as possible,” Kromer said. “This story detracts from a very interesting personal narrative.”
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the first name of Baltimore attorney Andy Levy, it has been corrected.