Vignarajah Ducks Eligibility Questions as She Launches Gubernatorial Campaign
Candidate has maintained she may run despite voting in Washington, D.C., while registered in Maryland
Screenshot via Krish for Maryland website
Krishanti Vignarajah did not take questions on Tuesday about whether she is eligible to run for governor as she officially kicked off her campaign in Baltimore County, according to multiple media reports.
A spokesman for Vignarajah’s campaign, Steve Rabin, did not return a voice mail Wednesday asking whether the campaign would address the eligibility questions or seek an opinion from the Maryland State Board of Elections about it.
Bethesda Beat first reported Vignarajah may be ineligible to run for governor after she voted multiple times in Washington, D.C., from 2010 to 2014 while working in the State Department and as Michelle Obama’s policy director in the White House. Her Maryland voter registration remained active during that period.
Maryland’s law requires gubernatorial candidates to have lived in and been registered to vote in Maryland for five years immediately preceding an election. D.C. law prohibits voters from being registered in other jurisdictions.
Vignarajah, 37, has said she voted in D.C. while working there, but never gave up her Maryland residency. She has maintained that she is eligible to run for governor.
“The requirements to run in Maryland could not be clearer,” Vignarajah told Cosmopolitan. “I have been a resident and registered voter for far more than the required five years. So I am absolutely qualified to run.”
In an interview on “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” last month, she described the apartment she used as her address to register to vote in D.C. as a “crash pad” and that she maintained a Catonsville address while working in the District.
Vignarajah is challenging Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, former NAACP President Ben Jealous, entrepreneur Alec Ross, state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Kensington) and Baltimore attorney James Shea for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. The primary is June 26.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has maintained high voter approval ratings during his first term.
Jared DeMarinis, director of candidacy and campaign finance at the Maryland Board of Elections, said Wednesday that Vignarajah could request a declaratory ruling from the board at any time to get the board’s perspective on the issue.
Mary Wagner, the director of voter registration for the board, previously sent the Maryland Attorney General’s Office an inquiry into eligibility requirements. Wagner described it at the time as an “informal email seeking advice.”
“It looks like the 5 year residence requirement is going to be an issue for the upcoming election,” the email to the attorney general’s office said. “At issue is whether a person that voted in 2014 in DC cancels her residence in Maryland.”
Wagner said in an interview Wednesday that Vignarajah’s formal campaign kickoff probably means the attorney general’s office will weigh in on the issue. She said the board is talking with two attorneys in the attorney general’s office about the question.
“This was not a pressing matter when she was just talking about running,” Wagner said.
DeMarinis said the board is looking for insight into its responsibilities in clarifying requirements for office.
Christine Tobar, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, confirmed Wednesday that her office is looking into the issue and will provide advice to the Board of Elections. She did not know when that would happen.
Wagner told The Washington Post in a story published Tuesday that the board would have canceled Vignarajah’s Maryland voter registration if D.C. officials had notified the state she was registered in the District.
Republicans are continuing to question Vignarajah’s eligibility.
Dirk Haire, chairman of the Maryland GOP and Gov. Larry Hogan’s campaign lawyer, told The Baltimore Sun this week that Vignarajah’s candidacy shows “Democrats can’t get their act together.”
“By refusing to take questions or answer charges after many years as a Washington D.C. insider, Krishanti Vignarajah does not even meet residency requirements and has shown she simply doesn’t have what it takes to lead our state,” Haire told the paper.
The Republican Governors Association (RGA) on Wednesday continued the attack line.
“Vignarajah’s refusal to talk about her eligibility status isn’t new,” the RGA wrote in an email. “She dodged questions about it just weeks ago during a radio show. … Vignarajah is proving that she won’t be upfront with Maryland voters.”
In August, Vignarajah opened a campaign finance committee to begin fundraising for the race. It’s not clear how much she has raised—her first campaign finance report is due Jan. 17.
She has also not formally filed to run for governor yet with the Board of Elections. The filing deadline is Feb. 27.