Wait, you mean I gotta live in my district? No way!
This week The Dagger, the sharp-edged Harford County website, noticed that the state senate campaign of a former state senator named Art Helton had been stopped in its tracks. The reason: Helton does not live in the district.
This is actually amazing news, because in Maryland it has long been the law of the land that a politician can, for the purpose of carpet-bagging, claim residence any damn place he or she chooses, with no requirement to sleep in or on said premises.
The decision came in 1998 and was captioned Blount v. Boston. In it the judge held that a politician’s domicile (for the purpose of running for office, at least) was “somewhat elusive.” The location must simply be a permanent place to which said pol “intends to return.” Thus, said politician’s nightly location could—like the precise location of an electron in its atomic cloud—never be exactly calculated by the eyes of the law.
From City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s ‘round-the-corner residence to former Councilwoman Belinda Conaway’s husband’s Randallstown abode to (citing the most common citation) Baltimore City Councilwoman Rikki Spector, “dean of the City Council,” who sleeps nightly in a luxurious downtown highrise while commuting (at considerable expense) to her Northeast district, nobody—but nobody!—has been denied the right to lie to the voting public about where they live.
Until, perhaps, now.
“Both Mr. and Mrs. Helton maintain their bona fide residence or domicile at 3069 Harmony Church Rd. in Darlington, and that is where Maryland’s Constitution … and election law required that they be registered and vote,” Judith Armold, a hearing officer designated by the State Board of Elections, wrote in the decision on December 10. “That is, as well, where either of them may legally run for public office.”
Though not yet officially declared, Helton has been running for the District 34 Senate seat held by Mary-Dulany James. To run there, he claimed his residence (and switched he and his wife’s voter registration) to an Aberdeen office building he owns. But he and his wife’s Darlington farm is in District 35.
Helton is a Democrat. District 35 is a safe Republican seat. The 34th leans more Democratic, thus better odds.
Getting the decision was no small feat. Harford County Council member Barbara Osborn Kreamer and former Aberdeen City Council President Mike Hiob, both of whom support James, hired a private investigator to tail Helton. The detective monitored water usage at the farm and the office in October. It was all quite cloak-and-dagger.
And Armold has seen Helton before, and ruled the other way, albeit reluctantly:
In the 2007 proceeding before me, in which Ms. Kreamer likewise challenged Mr. Helton’s attempt to move his voter registration from Harmony Church Road to an Aberdeen address, I concluded that Mr. Helton’s voter registration activity since the 1998 Blount decision evidenced “a sincere belief that he is free to shift his voter registration at will among properties that he owns,” and I stated my belief that Mr. Helton was mistaken as a matter of law. Because I did not there find any reason to question the sincerity of Mr. Helton’s mistaken beliefs, I concluded that [election laws] which define as criminal misdemeanors the willful and knowing falsification of residence in an attempt to register or to vote in the wrong election district or precinct were not called into question. Unfortunately, I cannot reach the same conclusion here.
Armold called on the State Prosecutor to investigate Helton for fraud.
Helton, who has switched his “residence” eight times since January, 2002, says he’s going to appeal.
But, really, wow.
Holding a political candidate to his or her word under oath? Consequences for lying? What kind of fucked-up, totalitarian system is this?