Minnesota lawmakers are re-examining the steps elections officials take to ensure candidates running for office live in the area they want to represent.
Senators delved into the process — or lack thereof — to check where someone resides during a state government and elections committee hearing Thursday.
Their review follows a controversy this summer involving state Rep. John Thompson, who was revealed to have a Wisconsin driver's license after he was pulled over in a traffic stop. The DFLer is registered as a Minnesota voter, with his address listed within his St. Paul district. But he had renewed a Wisconsin license over the years, which listed a Wisconsin address. Thompson said he previously lived in Wisconsin but has been a St. Paul resident for many years. He has since gotten a Minnesota license.
That situation, as well as the redistricting process happening before the 2022 midterm elections, has prompted a broader conversation among some lawmakers.
Whenever redistricting happens and district lines shift, there are always "floods of questions of what does it take to be a resident for the purpose of being a candidate in filing for office? And in a legislative year when you have redistricting, that is more complicated than ever," said Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake.
When people file an affidavit of candidacy to run for office, they need to include a statement that they will meet or currently meet residency requirements, Senate Counsel Alexis Stangl told legislators Thursday. Candidates need to either include their address or request to use a campaign contact address and keep their personal residence private.
If they do not want to make their address public, she said they need to include their residence on a separate form and certify that they have a police report or order for protection showing that there is a safety issue or that their data are private for some other reason under Minnesota law.
A candidate does not need to attach a police report or order for protection to the form, said David Maeda, the elections director for the Secretary of State's Office. In 2020, fewer than 15 candidates who filed with the state office used that privacy provision, he said. Thompson was one of them.
The secretary of state's staff and local elections officials are not required to check whether the private address that someone submits is actually within the district the person wants to represent. But Maeda said the secretary's office could handle that review if the Legislature directs them to start doing it.
"It would not be overly burdensome for our office to check that private data [and see] if the address is actually in the district. We would need, of course, you and the Legislature to tell us what to do if it's not," Maeda told the senators.
If it is found that someone lied about where the person lives on an affidavit, the responsibility for following up on that would fall to the county attorney, Maeda said.
Legislators were merely gathering information about the residency verification process this week, but could propose changes to the rules in the upcoming legislative session.
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