It is clear that Democrat Bob Kerrey can run for Nebraska's U.S. Senate seat under the U.S. Constitution.
What's not so clear is whether he properly registered as a Nebraska voter after rushing back to the state to file for office, said Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale.
Kerrey's name can be placed on the ballot, Gale ruled Friday. But in a harshly worded opinion, Republican Gale chastised Kerrey for his “cavalier” attitude in claiming to be a Nebraska resident when he registered to vote while staying at an Omaha hotel.
Paul Johnson, Kerrey's campaign manager, responded that Gale's opinion appeared to be politically motivated and that Gale was throwing a “bone” to the state GOP with his mixed ruling.
A former Nebraska governor and U.S. senator, Kerrey returned to the state late last month to mount a Senate race. He has lived in New York City for the past 12 years.
Under the U.S. Constitution, Kerrey must be a resident of Nebraska only at the time of the election. Under state law, however, he had to register to vote in order to file for office.
Gale's ruling may not be the last word on the subject. The state GOP has vowed to pursue further avenues to contest Kerrey's candidacy and his voter registration, including a possible court challenge.
A court challenge would have to happen quickly.
A court would have to intervene and overrule Gale's ruling by Wednesday in order to stop the state ballots from being printed with Kerrey's name, Gale said.
Mark Fahleson, chairman of the state Republican Party, said the party plans to quickly decide its next step. He argued it was a matter of state's rights.
Nebraska has every right to require a U.S. Senate candidate to be a resident of the state at the time of filing for office, Fahleson said.
Fahleson has argued that Kerrey violated state law when he signed his first voter registration form, listing his sister's house as his residence.
“I'm not sure how they do things in New York. In Nebraska, you must reside in our state to be a registered voter. And in Nebraska, you have to be a registered voter to run for office,” Fahleson said.
The crux of Gale's criticism of Kerrey is that he first registered to vote using his sister's address and then the address of a friend's guest house, all while staying at an Omaha hotel.
When Kerrey registered to vote, he swore an oath that he resided at his sister's house. Gale said Kerrey never provided any proof — including that he had personal items stored at his sister's house — that he intended to live there.
“The oath he took with his first voter registration was treated pretty cavalierly by Mr. Kerrey,” Gale said in his written opinion.
Kerrey's camp noted, however, that there is no requirement in Nebraska law that dictates how long a person must live in the state to be a resident in order to register to vote.
In fact, they pointed out that Gale himself tells voters they can register on the same day they become a resident of Nebraska in a section addressing frequently asked questions on his website.
“His rhetoric is highly inflammatory, reckless, and he was clearly trying to throw a bone to the Republican operatives on the other side,” Johnson said.
Gale denied that politics were involved in his decision.
As for his website, which says voters can register on the day they move to Nebraska, Gale said:
“Understand, that's an attempt to put things in a fairly short form to help people understand there is no requirement that you have to live here for a certain period of time . . . to vote,” Gale said.
He argued, however, that state law contains other rules that govern whether Kerrey was a resident on the day he registered to vote. Gale said he concluded real questions were raised about whether Kerrey ever intended to live at his sister's house, the residence he listed initially on his voter registration.
Ultimately, Gale said, any questions about whether Kerrey was a resident when he registered to vote would have to be decided by a law enforcement officer or a county attorney.
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Democrat Bob Kerrey was not a Nebraska resident when he filed to run for U.S. Senate, but the U.S. Constitution clearly allows his name to be on the ballot, according to Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale.