Krishanti Vignarajah announces her run for Maryland governor in front of the Baltimore apartment complex where she lived as a young child. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
Four years before entering the Maryland governor’s race, Democrat Krishanti Vignarajah got a letter from the D.C. Board of Elections.
The board had information suggesting Vignarajah was registered to vote in Maryland, the letter said. “However, our records indicate that you reside, and are registered to vote, at the address indicated below” — a co-op unit at the Chastleton, a 1920s-era midrise near Dupont Circle.
Vignarajah could have checked a box to indicate she did not reside in the District. Instead, on Feb. 20, 2014, she checked the box that said: “I currently reside at the address below, as indicated in the Board’s records.” Then she signed her name.
More than two years later, on May 26, 2016, she listed the D.C. apartment as her residence in her application for a Maryland marriage license.
The two documents, which have not previously been made public, could contradict a claim Vignarajah has made during her campaign: that the co-op unit, which she bought with her mother in 2009, was only a place to lay her head after a day’s work.
“I didn’t live there, but I did have a crash pad there,” Vignarajah said on Kojo Nnamdi’s radio show on WAMU-FM (88.5) in August.
Maryland requires that its governor be a resident of the state for five years prior to the election, a requirement that Vignarajah says she meets because she considered Maryland her home even during her years in the District, when she worked for a law firm and the Obama administration.
“The apartment merely served as a convenient nearby dwelling after long days and nights at work,” Vignarajah said in court papers filed in October in an effort to put to rest questions about her eligibility.
This week, in response to questions from The Washington Post, Vignarajah said in a statement: “Maryland is and always has been home. Temporarily residing outside of Maryland, whether it’s for school or work, does not change my permanent residence, as a matter of law or common sense.”
In her 2016 marriage license application, Krishanti Vignarajah said lived in in Washington, D.C. (Clerk of Circuit Court for Dorchester County)
News organizations reported last summer that Vignarajah — one of seven major candidates competing for the Democratic nomination to challenge Gov. Larry Hogan (R) — was registered to vote in the District and Maryland and voted in the District through 2014.
No one challenged her eligibility when she filed candidacy papers this winter, and her place on the June 26 primary ballot is assured. But Republicans say they would try to challenge her should she win the nomination. Some lawyers interviewed by The Post said it’s possible such a challenge would be allowed, while others doubted it, given the time that has passed since Vignarajah filed to run.
In the past, Vignarajah has likened questions about her residency to conspiracy theories pushed by Donald Trump that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
She did not answer questions about three government documents obtained by The Post through public records requests. In addition to the 2014 D.C. Board of Elections letter and the marriage license application, they include a 2010 statement to the elections board saying she lived in the co-op unit and did not claim the right to vote outside the District.
Her campaign told The Post that Vignarajah has filed D.C. income taxes, but declined to say for which year or years.
Vignarajah’s spokeswoman, Elizabeth Waickman, says the matter of her eligibility is settled, because of a Maryland law that limits the window of time for challenging a candidate’s residency status. Waickman accused other Democrats in the race of continuing to press the issue to reporters at a time when Vignarajah has performed well at candidate forums and in several straw polls.
“It’s no surprise her opponents are trying to revive it now that she has such momentum,” Waickman said in an email. She said Vignarajah is “focused on convincing voters that Krish is not just the only woman and mom and immigrant in the race, she’s also the best choice on the ballot.”
In a video posted on Facebook Monday, Vignarajah reiterates the arguments she made in a lawsuit she filed last fall asking a judge to declare her an eligible candidate. She said she grew up and attended public schools in Maryland and considered her parents’ house in Catonsville, outside Baltimore, her home. In an affidavit filed as part of the lawsuit, she said she received mail and kept personal belongings there, “including most of my clothing, furniture, artwork, personal and professional records, books, and a lot of shoes.”
Vignarajah dropped the suit in January, after the state attorney general’s office said there was no basis to think a legal challenge to her candidacy was imminent.
A Hogan spokesman declined to comment. But other Republicans, including Del. Joe Cluster (Baltimore County), the former state GOP executive director, said someone in the party would surely attempt to challenge Vignarajah if she were the nominee.
“She shouldn’t be able to be on the ballot,” Cluster said. “If I was executive director of the Maryland Republican Party and she was the nominee for the Democrats, I would challenge her running for governor.”
Were such a challenge permitted, the government documents and Vignarajah’s voting history would be “a killer,” said Timothy Maloney, a lawyer and former Democratic state lawmaker who is not supporting anyone in the primary. “It would be almost impossible to overcome.”
In response to a query from the D.C. Board of Elections in 2014, Krishanti Vignarajah said she resided in the District. (D.C. Board of Elections)
Vignarajah has framed her time in the District as a temporary period when she was a federal government appointee. But she first registered to vote there while working for the D.C. law firm of Jenner & Block. She stayed at the firm until 2011, when she joined the State Department.
From 2015 until January 2017, she worked as policy director to first lady Michelle Obama. Vignarajah and her husband, Collin O’Mara, bought a home in Gaithersburg last July , a month before she announced plans to run for governor.
Vignarajah voted in the District in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. Though she registered to vote in Maryland in 2006, she voted there for her first time in the 2016 general election.
Rachel Chason contributed to this report.