At home in CD28

With Rep. Ciro Rodriguez filing a lawsuit to overturn the result in the CD28 Democratic primary, the case would appear to turn on the question of what a valid voter registration is.

The issue of residency is a murky one, some say, involving family ties and deep-rooted cultural traditions.

At Zacatecas and New York streets on the city’s Southeast Side, one home boasts a bright blue plastic tarp that serves as a front door.

A steady stream of cars chugged through the neighborhood as Rosaura CastaƱon emerged from behind the tarp to answer a reporter’s questions.

“That’s my brother, that’s my brother-in-law, that’s my sister-in-law,” CastaƱon said, rattling off family members as she peered at a list of people with five different last names. “We all voted.”

She’s one of 12 family members who share the modest home.

Rodriguez attorney Buck Wood acknowledges family ties are at the heart of many of his examples of alleged illegal voting, such as a son or daughter who moves from his or her parents’ home but maintains voter registration there.

“The tradition of people maintaining an address other than where they live seems to be very prevalent here ” in Laredo, he said. “It’s very family-oriented and people maintain their connections.”

While it may not be fraud, it’s certainly not legal, he said.

“If you go to a poll and you claim you still live at an address, that’s illegal,” Wood said. “That vote’s going to be thrown out.”

Cuellar attorney Steve Bickerstaff disputes that.

“It’s very, very common for the registration to remain at the residence of the parents,” he said. “Any ruling that would say that’s a violation of the law would have implications statewide for minority voting.”

Trying to determine if family members have moved out of a home but remain registered there could lead to all sorts of problems, Bexar County Elections Administrator Cliff Borofsky said.

“I think it’s probably a fairly common phenomenon,” he said. “Statewide, I’m sure there are many cases where families vote together.”

Borofsky said officials try to keep tabs on residency by sending out voter registration cards to last-known addresses. If the person no longer lives there, the current residents are supposed to return the card to the county.

“It would be a mess, and in order to correct it, the (Texas) secretary of state or a court would have to ask every elections administrator to investigate whether people really live where they say they do.”

State law tends to protect rather than inhibit the right to vote. To be eligible to vote, states the Election Code, a person must “be a resident of the territory covered by the election,” in this case, Congressional District 28. It doesn’t refer to a specific address or time frame.

My gut instinct says that a judge will be reluctant to hold this election to a tight reading of state law when it’s not an issue in pretty much every other election. I don’t necessarily agree with this idea, but I can already hear cries of “unfunded mandate” if the stricter standard is upheld. The implications could be awfully messy, and I’m not sure anyone without a direct interest in this case wants to go down that path. Maybe as long as we’ve got all our lawmakers in Austin, most of them without much to do right now, we could ask them to look into whether the relevant laws need cleaning up. Not that doing so would affect this case, but it might at least avoid a bigger mess in the future.

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One Response to At home in CD28

  1. Steve Bates says:

    This could be a really hazardous argument in general. Where, for example, did Dick Cheney really live when he ran for vice president? Few were inclined to challenge his claim of residency at the time, but it could be a matter of constitutional significance.

    The whole matter is ambiguous for a lot of people. I vote where I actually live, and have lived for about nine years… I rent an apartment in Precinct 17 in Houston. But I could, if I wished, make a very respectable claim for legal residency in Polk County, which is the only place in the whole world in which I own real property. If I declared that property my homestead, who could dispute my declaration?

    I don’t have a dog in this particular race, but if push came to shove, I’d support the general principle that, within reason, voters live where they say they live, and as long as they vote in only one place, and they have demonstrable ties with that place, no one has a serious right to challenge that vote. I don’t know if state law agrees with me. I presume we’ll soon find out.

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