One candidate lives on the beach, more than 300 miles from the district in which he’s running.
An Asheville City Council member rented a Charlotte mailbox for his race in Mecklenburg County.
And in order to run in a new Senate district, one Surry County man moved into a funeral home.
Since North Carolina’s candidate filing opened last month, people have suddenly gotten the urge to move, or at least to commute long distances.
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Legislative candidates, unlike those for Congress, must live in the district they want to represent. One Mecklenburg County legislative candidate already was disqualified for not living in his district. Others are being challenged.
In Iredell County, a Democrat is challenging Republican Bob Rucho, a former Mecklenburg senator who changed his address to a Mooresville apartment a day before he filed for office. His wife still lives in Matthews, according to her voter registration.
In Mecklenburg, a Republican is challenging the residency of Democrat Brandon Lofton. A would-be challenger to GOP Rep. Andy Dulin, Lofton said he’s living in a southeast Charlotte house he recently rented in District 104. His wife is still registered to vote in a different district.
“It’s an easy attack to make on the candidate, that they don’t live in the district and can’t effectively understand or represent the people who do,” said Eric Heberlig, a UNC Charlotte political scientist. “Someone’s ‘not from around here.’ That resonates with people in the same way regardless of the office.”
Lofton, a lawyer, called the challenge to his residency “baseless.”
“I have no doubt it will be dismissed quickly,” he said. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 20 before the Mecklenburg elections board.
Rucho, who said he’s been trying to sell his Matthews home, called the Iredell County complaint a “frivolous (effort) by the Democrats to interfere with an already confused electoral process.”
Rucho is one of four Republicans and three Democrats running for the open seat. (He was replaced in Mecklenburg by fellow Republican Dan Bishop after stepping down in 2016.)
Under the state constitution, candidates for statewide office and the General Assembly have to live in their districts for a year prior to filing. (City and county officials have a 30-day requirement). Because of court-ordered redistricting, candidates in certain legislative districts do not have the same requirement. In those districts – including Rucho’s Senate District 34 and Lofton’s House District 104 – candidates only have to live in the district at the close of filing.
The question in each case, have they officially established residence? Under N.C. law, “residence” is defined as a person’s “usual sleeping area.” (If a district line bisects your home, your residence is the room where you sleep.)
In Mecklenburg, the county elections board will decide. Because Senate District 34 covers two counties – Iredell and Yadkin – the challenge would normally go to the state elections board. But because of a power struggle between the Republican General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, there currently is no state board. That means the dispute will go to a Wake County Superior Court.
Republican A.J. Daoud also is running in Senate District 34. He moved from Surry County into a funeral home he owns in East Bend, a town of about 600 in Yadkin County.
“Our business has represented families (in Yadkin County) for a long time,” Daoud said. “It’s not like we’re strangers to the district.”
With congressional candidates only required to live in their states, North Carolina has seen its share of candidates – some of whom even got elected – living outside their districts. For years, 9th District Republican Rep. Sue Myrick lived in Charlotte’s Fourth Ward, two doors from then-U.S. Rep. Mel Watt’s 12th District home.
This year Republican Albert Wiley would have to drive more than five hours to get from his home on the shores of Atlantic Beach to the 10th Congressional District where he’s running against Rep. Patrick McHenry in a GOP primary. He got less than 5 percent of the vote when he ran in 2016.
Republican Paul Wright will have a little shorter commute to Charlotte from Mount Olive, in Wayne County. He’s running in the 12th District, which encompasses most of Mecklenburg County. The heavily Democratic district has been represented by Democrat Alma Adams since 2014.
“I believe the people of North Carolina should band together, no matter where they live,” he said.
Neither of the other two Republicans running in the 12th District live in the 12th. Paul Bonham lives in Gaston County. And Charlotte’s Carl Persson lives in the 9th District.
Among the Democratic primary challengers to Adams, Gabriel Ortiz and Patrick Register live in the Charlotte portion of the 9th District. And Keith Young lives in Asheville where he’s on the city council.
Young said as one of only three districts held by Democratic (of the state’s 13), the 12th “represents a larger voice of citizens around the state who have been gerrymandered out of representation.”
His campaign address is a rented mailbox off South Boulevard. Charlotte Democrat Scott Huffman, meanwhile, has rented a UPS mailbox in Cabarrus County. That’s in the 8th District, where he’s running for Congress. Until recently he was an officer in the Mecklenburg Democratic Party.
Another 8th District Democratic candidate, Marc Tiegel, is still registered in Charlotte, where he lives in the 12th District. He said he has an apartment in Concord.
Adams, the incumbent, has seen her own residency challenged.
A longtime resident of Greensboro, she lived there when first elected to the district in 2014. When the district lines shrunk to Mecklenburg, she moved to Charlotte.
That’s currently her official residence.