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El-Sayed, 1st Dem to file petitions, defends his eligibility

March 6, 2018

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed speaks before submitting 24,000 nominating petitions to the Michigan Bureau of Elections, Tuesday, March 6, 2018, in Lansing, Mich. El-Sayed became the first Democratic gubernatorial candidate to submit nominating petitions, a step that could lead to clarity over nagging questions about his eligibility to run. (AP Photo/David Eggert)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Abdul El-Sayed on Tuesday became the first Democratic gubernatorial candidate to submit nominating petitions, a step that could lead to clarity over nagging questions about his eligibility to run.

With the signatures filed, anyone can now challenge El-Sayed’s candidacy. It remains unclear if he himself will take pre-emptive legal action seeking an answer, as has been requested by the Michigan Democratic Party.

“I’ve been a resident of Michigan since I was a kid. I’ve been registered to vote in this state since I was 18 and registered to vote for John Kerry,” El-Sayed told reporters while turning in 24,000 signatures before an April filing deadline. “I am 100 percent eligible to run for governor. And we will do everything that we need to move forward in terms of both getting on that ballot and, more importantly, having the conversations that matter about ideals and ideas among voters in the state of Michigan to win that election.”

At issue are provisions in Michigan’s constitution and election law. A gubernatorial candidate must have been a registered and “qualified” voter in the state for four years before the election.

After graduating from the University of Michigan, El-Sayed was a Rhodes scholar and attended medical school in New York City and later worked there as an assistant epidemiology professor. He voted there before returning to Michigan in 2015 — roughly three years before the August 2018 primary — to be the health director of Detroit.

While El-Sayed’s Michigan voter registration was at risk once he got a New York driver’s license in 2013, it was never canceled due to a federally required waiting period and because he updated it in March 2016, weeks after the presidential primary. There are questions, however, not only about whether someone can be registered in multiple states — which is not uncommon — but whether El-Sayed could have been considered a “qualified elector” here while residing and working in New York.

In February, Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon issued a statement after a Bridge Magazine report called into question El-Sayed’s eligibility.

“We are calling on Dr. El-Sayed to take appropriate legal action, including asking the courts for a ruling on his eligibility as soon as possible,” he said then. “Regrettably, we feel this is the only way to put this matter to rest quickly and without ambiguity. We hope the court would handle this request swiftly and diligently so all of our great candidates, including Dr. El-Sayed, can put this issue behind them and focus on the issues that really matter to the people of Michigan.”

El-Sayed declined Tuesday to say what move, if any, he might make now that he has filed his signatures. In his affidavit of identity, the 33-year-old said he has lived in Michigan for 22 years.

His campaign had previously released a statement from its outside lawyer, who called the issue a “red herring” and said El-Sayed “has been a property owner, a taxpayer, a registered voter and a resident of Michigan throughout the qualifying period under state law.”

Also seeking the Democratic nomination for governor are former legislative leader Gretchen Whitmer, businessman Shri Thanedar and Bill Cobbs, a retired business executive.

The state Bureau of Elections will review El-Sayed’s petitions just as it does for any other candidate but will not on its own initiate a review of questions over his residency or registration status, said spokesman Fred Woodhams, who has said El-Sayed has been continuously registered to vote in Michigan since 2003.

“If someone wants to file a challenge going forward, that’s their option,” he said.

Of the four main Republican gubernatorial candidates, two — state Sen. Patrick Colbeck and Dr. Jim Hines — have turned in their nominating signatures. Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley also are running.

To qualify, a candidate must gather at least 15,000 valid voter signatures from at least seven of the 14 congressional districts.

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Follow David Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/David%20Eggert .

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