By Barry Rascovar
Oct. 9, 2017 – There’s nothing like starting your political career at the top.
No need serving an apprenticeship in a low-level elective office or working your way up in a methodical manner to gain essential expertise and experience.
The new, Trumpian model is to convince voters you’re the most exciting anti-establishment neophyte in the race who is capable of transforming Maryland’s government “swamp” into a modern-day Nirvana — even if you may not meet the legal qualifications needed to run for governor.
Exhibit A is Krishanti Vignarajah, a Sri Lankan by birth who held jobs in the State Department and the First Lady’s office during the Obama administration.
Now she wants to begin her Maryland career as governor, though her local political credentials are close to zero.
Worse, she may not be eligible to enter the governor’s race.
Vignarajah announced she’s running for governor but she has yet to formally file. She is asking a judge in Anne Arundel County to issue a sweeping declaration that she’s qualified.
Vignarajah is suing the campaign of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for a comment made by Hogan’s campaign lawyer questioning Vignarajah’s claim that she meets the state’s eligibility standards.
How Hogan’s campaign ended up as a defendant is unclear since the governor runs in the Republican primary and Vignarajah is attempting to gain the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Hogan’s campaign has nothing to do with the Democratic shoot-out.
There’s also the matter of free speech. The comment by Hogan’s campaign official is one man’s opinion, which isn’t normally subject to judicial review.
The state elections board also is being sued. Why is unclear, too.
First, Vignarajah hasn’t officially filed with the board. So it’s not surprising that the board has yet to say a word either pro or con about Vignarajah’s eligibility.
That puts the judge in a bind.
The judge is being asked to rule about a candidate’s eligibility even though the candidate has yet to submit the formal paperwork and pay the filing fee.
Vignarajah’s lawsuit may be premature.
If she does file with the elections board for governor, she still might not be able to get a judicial determination of her eligibility until the March 1 withdrawal deadline for candidates.
At that point, the elections board might make a decision on whether she meets the legal standards required of a gubernatorial candidate.
That’s when she could contest an unfavorable ruling in court.
Vignarajah was a District of Columbia resident and D.C. voter as recently as 2014. She worked, lived and voted in D.C. – not in Maryland.
Is it possible for her to meet Maryland’s requirement that candidates for governor be residents and registered voters for five years at the time of their filing?
Maryland, My Maryland
In her lawsuit, Vignarajah declares that her heart belongs in Maryland, which she feels should be enough to let her run for governor. She grew up in Woodlawn and now owns a home in Gaithersburg. She considers herself a Marylander.
Yet she voted in D.C. elections from 2010 to 2014, which requires residency in D.C. and seems to foreclose the possibility that she was a Maryland resident during that period.
Yes, she has retained her voter registration in Maryland as well, which could become a point of judicial interest if Vignarajah gets a chance to make her case before a judge.
She raises some interesting issues which could use judicial clarification at some point during the campaign:
- Are the state’s eligibility election laws discriminatory or deficient?
- Is it legal for individuals to hold dual voter registration cards if they own property in each jurisdiction? Can they then pick and choose which place they cast their votes or run for offfice?
- What is the legal definition of residency in Maryland for the purposes of state election laws?
Maryland sets a minimum standard that statewide candidates must meet to qualify for the ballot.
Vignarajah is old enough to run for the state’s highest elective office. The unanswered question is whether she meets the five-year residency and voter requirements.
At some point a judge may rule on that question and other related issues. This controversy has just begun. We may not know the outcome for many months.