As reported on Monday by Bridge Magazine, Abdul El-Sayed’s eligibility for the Michigan gubernatorial race has recently come under question. According to the article, El-Sayed’s former New York voter registration status might put him in violation of a Michigan Constitution requirement for a gubernatorial candidacy.

The Michigan Constitution requires candidates be registered electors in Michigan for four years before the election, meaning El-Sayed needs to have been registered to vote in Michigan since 2014. However, from 2012 to 2015, El-Sayed was registered to vote in New York, where he attended medical school at Columbia University and joined the faculty as an assistant professor shortly afterward.

El-Sayed is running for governor as a Democrat, and current polls indicate he is Democratic front-runner Gretchen Whitmer’s strongest competition.

El-Sayed originally grew up in Metro Detroit and first registered to vote in 2003, when he turned 18. He attended the University of Michigan and has owned an apartment in Ann Arbor with his wife since 2008. His campaign says the apartment establishes a continuous line of residency in Michigan.

While on faculty at Columbia, El-Sayed obtained a New York driver’s license in 2013, canceling his Michigan ID. According to Fred Woodhams, a Michigan Secretary of State spokesman, this process flagged El-Sayed’s voter status in the state of Michigan as being on “cancellation countdown.” Federal law mandates the state wait two federal election cycles before canceling inactive state voters, so the state would have canceled El-Sayed’s registration in 2016. If El-Sayed tried to vote in Michigan from 2013 to 2016, he would have been asked to verify his address. 

In August 2015, El-Sayed moved back to Michigan to be the Executive Director of the Detroit Health Department and Health Officer for the City of Detroit. A month before he moved in April 2016, El-Sayed registered to vote in Detroit, which took his registration off of the “cancellation countdown” in Michigan and canceled his voter registration in New York.

El-Sayed’s campaign asserts he has always been registered to vote in Michigan, and has confirmation of his eligibility from its team of lawyers.

“Abdul is 100-percent eligible to be governor of Michigan,” spokesman Adam Joseph wrote in a statement published by Bridge. “He has been continuously registered to vote in Michigan since he was 18 years old, and he has maintained continuous residence in Michigan since his childhood.”

Joseph dismissed such eligibility questions in Bridge as political tactics used by the establishment to undermine grassroots candidates, similar to the birther movement questioning Barack Obama’s citizenship.

“Let’s be clear, this is a political attack, and nothing more, and it falls in line with a long history of attacks on certain kinds of people when they aspire to leadership in our democracy,” Joseph wrote.

The controversy over El-Sayed’s eligibility adds another layer to an already competitive 2018 gubernatorial race. He has gotten broad national recognition for being the youngest health officer in a major U.S. city, as well for running for governor as a Muslim in a state where a majority of voters elected President Trump.

At a town hall at the Union in December, El-Sayed said he had never planned on a career in politics but after the 2016 presidential election, he wanted to enact positive change.

“I never intended to run for office, I’ll be honest with you, I hate politics,” El-Sayed said. “But sometimes there is a project that you want to complete and that you see needs completion and you have don’t exact tools, so you deal with the tools that you are given, politics is the tool that we have right now.”

El-Sayed’s campaign received more publicity in early January 2018 when Claire Sandberg, digital organizing director for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, joined El-Sayed’s campaign as deputy campaign manager.

No lawsuits can be filed until El-Sayed submits the paperwork to make his campaign official, which includes an affidavit swearing he meets the constitutional eligibility requirements. The deadline to submit the documents is April 24, 2018.

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