Less than two weeks into her term, new Oregon Secretary of State LaVonne Griffin-Valade has become a target of a national campaign to keep former President Donald Trump from appearing on ballots in 2024.
Two advocacy groups, Free Speech For People and Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, sent Griffin-Valade and top election officials in eight other states letters this week calling on them to disqualify Trump from running for federal office. Ben Morris, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office, confirmed that the office received the letter.
“The agency will review it, as we do all suggestions from the public, but we have no comment on their request at this time,” Morris said.
Free Speech For People and Mi Familia Vota Education Fund invoked a rarely-used section of the Fourteenth Amendment intended to prevent former Confederates from holding federal office after the Civil War.
The Fourteenth Amendment, one of a trio of constitutional amendments adopted during the Reconstruction Era, is best known for its first section, which declares that everyone born or naturalized in the U.S. is a full citizen and deserves equal protection under the law. Section 3 of the amendment prohibits anyone who previously took an oath to support the U.S. Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof” from holding any federal office. A two-thirds vote of Congress could allow such a person to take office.
“This clause applies to Donald Trump,” the letter to Griffin-Valade said. “Having sworn an oath to support the Constitution as an officer of the United States, then ‘engaged’ in the January 6 insurrection as that term is defined by law and precedent, Trump is now ineligible to hold any ‘office … under the United States,’ including the presidency, unless and until he is relieved of that disqualification by two-thirds of both chambers of Congress.”
The advocacy groups want to block Trump from even appearing on ballots. Election officials routinely determine whether candidates are qualified to run – people who are too young for offices with age limits or don’t meet residency requirements don’t appear on ballots.
“Secretaries of state and state election officials are well within their authority to bar former President Donald Trump from the ballot,” Mi Familia Vota National Programs Manager Irving Zavaleta said in a statement. “We all know that Donald Trump incited an insurrection to stop the certification of the 2020 election. Under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment, anyone who has taken the oath of office to defend the Constitution and then engages in an insurrection is disqualified from holding future public office. Trump is disqualified, and we strongly urge election officials to bar him from the ballot.”
In Oregon, candidates file a two-page form declaring their candidacy and swearing that they meet qualifications for that office. State or local election staff then review those forms and determine whether a candidate is qualified.
Whether Trump appears on ballots in Oregon ultimately wouldn’t make much of a difference. The state’s presidential primary in May is among the last in the nation, and parties typically know their nominees before Oregon voters cast their ballots.
The last Republican to win a presidential election in Oregon was Ronald Reagan in 1984, and the state’s Democratic voting record isn’t expected to change anytime soon.
Free Speech for People and Mi Familia Vota sent similar letters in 2021 to top election officials in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The latest batch of nine letters went to secretaries of state or election board chairs in Oregon, California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
Some letters address specific issues
The new letters were largely identical, but the groups provided additional examples in Oregon, Michigan, North Carolina and Georgia.
The letter to Griffin-Valade cited former Secretary of State Shemia Fagan’s decision last year to prevent New York Times columnist Nick Kristof from running for governor as a Democrat because he hadn’t met a requirement to live in the state for the three years prior to election. The state Supreme Court upheld Fagan’s decision and reiterated that the secretary of state is responsible for determining whether candidates are qualified to appear on ballots.
“The January 6, 2021 attack and its facts are well documented for the secretary to know and thereby ‘take action’ to remove Trump from the ballot,” the letter said.
The Michigan letter cited a former secretary of state’s decision to leave a Libertarian Party candidate for president, Gary Johnson, off the general election ballot in 2012 because he had lost a Republican primary election earlier that year. Michigan, like Oregon, has a so-called “sore loser law” that blocks candidates who lose a primary election from running as an independent or with another party in the general election.
Letters to Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold and the North Carolina State Board of Elections cite the state’s 2011 decisions to disqualify a naturalized citizen, Abdul Hassan, who filed to run for president in several states to challenge the constitutional requirement that presidents be citizens at birth.
The North Carolina letter also cites the board’s 2022 attempt to hold a hearing on a challenge to former U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s re-election bid because he promoted and spoke at a Jan. 6, 2021, rally that devolved into an attack on the U.S. Capitol. A federal district court blocked the board from holding such a hearing. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted that injunction, but by that point Cawthorn had already lost his primary and the case was moot.
A letter to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger cited a 2022 challenge from some Georgia voters who tried to keep U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from running for re-election. They argued that she engaged in insurrection by saying on Jan. 5, 2021, that Jan. 6 would be “our 1776 moment,” referring to the American colonies declaring independence from Britain.
Greene filed state and federal lawsuits over the challenge before Raffensperger could make his decision. A Georgia administrative law judge concluded that Greene was eligible for election because her statements were protected by the First Amendment. The judge left the ultimate decision up to Raffensperger, who allowed her to appear on the ballot and said voters would decide whether her political statements were disqualifying.
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