Thank you for visiting our website

Featuring breaking political news and commentary on local, state, and national issues.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Candidate Residency Requirement Rears It's Ugly Head Again in Frederick County Maryland

George Wenschhof

Two days after the July 6 candidate filing deadline, news comes that two candidates for Frederick County Board of Commissioners do not meet residency requirements and were disqualified by the Frederick County Board of Elections. The section of the County Charter quoted is as follows:



§ 2-2-19. Residency requirements.

(a) A candidate for county commissioner shall be a resident and registered voter of Frederick County for at least 6 months immediately prior to the date of election.

(b) A county commissioner who no longer resides in Frederick County may not continue as a county commissioner.

(2006, Chapter 205, § 1)

Interestingly, the two candidates were a Democrat (Caroline Eader) and a Republican (Adam Avery).

Challenges to residency laws of candidates for public office have been struck down repeatedly by the courts as was the case locally prior to the 2005 City of Frederick election.

As some may recall, former four term Mayor Ron Young filed to run against incumbent first term Mayor; Jennifer Dougherty.

During Mr. Young's second marriage, he choose to move into his wife's home which was literally located across the street from the city boundary with the county.

However, sometime prior to filing for office, Mr. Young had moved to a home located within the City of Frederick.

Ms. Dougherty was quick to bring up the fact that Mr. Young did not meet the existing three year residency requirement of the city in order to run for office.

This led to Young filing suit with the court overturning the three year requirement, but stopping short of what length of time was acceptable; instead sending that back to the city to address.

The quick version of the rest of the story is Ron Young defeated Jennifer Dougherty in the Democratic primary election.

Interestingly, when Mayor Dougherty vetoed an earlier alderman vote to reduce the residency requirement to one year, which would have allowed Young to run, Alderman David Lenhart sued the mayor.

Upon receipt of the Judge's decision on the residency challenge by Ron Young, Mayor Dougherty rescinded her veto of the alderman vote to reduce the residency to one year.

This led to one of the more bizarre happenings in local elections. Amendments to the Charter take forty-five days before they are official, allowing for citizen appeal by petition.

During this 45 day period, there was technically no residency requirement in the city as the Judge had ruled the 3 year requirement unconstitutional and the charter amendment to change residency to one year was not official.

Two candidates for mayor filed during that 45 day period who did not live in the city. One, Republican Jeff Holtzinger was elected defeating Democrat Ron Young. Holtzinger choose not to run again after one term in office.

This incident is what led the Board of County Commissioners the following year in 2006, to address the residency requirements for candidates for county offices to what I provided at the beginning of this article.

So where does this leave the two candidates who were disqualified?

First, if the claim (I received as part of a group email) by Caroline Eader that she was not asked any residency or voter registration questions when she registered and received a packet indicating she was officially filed is true, it is a troubling omission by the Frederick County Board of Elections.

Second, it is questionable any residency requirement will withstand a constitutional challenge. The change to six months and a registered voter was an attempt in 2006 to make it a minor requirement, that hopefully would never be challenged as the City of Frederick's three residency had been in 2005.

The options for the candidates are to either accept the decision they are not eligible and wait until the following election, or file suit against the county residency and voter registration requirement.

If a suit is instituted, it is likely to be heard quickly as the primary is September 14. Money will then be spent by both a candidate(s) and the county government.

The more appropriate action would be for the Board of County Commissioners to vote to amend the charter by eliminating these candidate requirements, allowing these two candidates to run for office.

Voters can make the decision on what is important to them and candidates can point out the length of time other candidates have lived here or been registered to vote if they believe that is an important issue.

The prudent action is to allow Caroline Eader and Adam Avery to run for office and let the voters decide who they elect.

Update: 9:30 AM - during a conversation this morning with Stuart Harvey, Supervisor of Frederick County Board of Elections, it was realized the current form of county commissioner government could not amend the charter and a change would need to go before the state legislature. This would not happen before 2011, after the 2010 election. So, it appears the only recourse for the candidates is to sue and challenge the candidacy requirement.

Mr. Harvey also indicated they did provide to candidates paperwork which included statements to the effect they must meet all applicable laws and that they would be verified. However, specific information pertaining to the length of residency and voter registration is not provided.


To receive "Daily Email Updates", click on "Subscribe to this feed' below or use the sign up box located in the upper right hand margin.


Networker said...

This is fair and it is the responsibility of any potential candidate to know the requirements for running for any public office. Residency requirements are good in my opinion. Not being aware of the rules or attempting to sneak in under the radar or gaming the system is proof the potential candidate does not have the awareness or the right stuff to hold an office. If you cannot do the research to determine if you qualify to run do we really want to consider you for office? Not I.

Anonymous said...

Residency requirements clearly violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution and serve only those in office who wish to close the candidacy option to others. The courts have consistently struck them down. Residency requirements are not only not fair, they border on constructive evil.