Once again with the residency question

Every election, without fail.

Robin Williams, a police officer in Missouri City, was 16 months into her long-shot bid to become Houston’s next mayor when city officials made a discovery that threatened to suddenly end her campaign: She did not actually live in the city.

On her application to run for mayor, Williams listed the address of her home near the South Belt, even though it is just outside city limits. The city, which requires candidates to be registered voters in the city and to live there for a year before the election, rejected her application.

Williams claimed she had made a mistake, and two days later she filed another ballot application, this one asserting she lived at a separate home inside the city that she does not own. But her voter registration still was tied to her home outside Houston, so she still ran afoul of the first requirement. The city rejected her ballot application again, and the deadline to file a new ballot application passed.

Soon after, Williams filed a third and final application, this time to run as a write-in candidate. She will appear that way on the ballot when Houston voters head to the polls in November to elect a new mayor.

Williams is one of seven candidates running for elected positions at City Hall whose ties to properties outside Houston cast doubt about whether they live in the city they seek to represent. They include a former City Council member, a pastor who made a runoff against an incumbent in 2019 and a top executive in the city controller’s office.

When candidates file to run for office in Houston, city attorneys verify that the address they list as their permanent home is in Houston and inside the district they are running in. They verify the candidate is registered to vote in the city, and they ensure the candidate has checked a box swearing to have not been convicted of a felony. Eight candidates, including Williams, were rejected this year based on those checks.

The city does not do any further investigation beyond those initial checks. And in Williams’ case, they allowed her to continue filing new applications.

The Chronicle obtained every candidate’s ballot application in a records request, and then reviewed property and court records, voter registrations, business licenses and other publicly available documents to see which candidates have ties to addresses that could cast doubt about their residency. The review found six more candidates with conflicting documents.

All seven will appear on the ballot, in part because residency requirements have been loosely enforced by Texas courts for years. As long as candidates have ties to a Houston address and can claim they intend to live there, the courts have ruled that they satisfy the requirement.

That ambiguity creates enough wiggle room for some to skirt the spirit of the law, renting apartments or owning property inside city limits while continuing to actually live in the suburbs.

Other candidates include MJ Khan, Willie Davis, Donnell Cooper, Conchita Reyes, and Shannan Nobles. Khan’s residency was questioned back when he was a Council member, and typically nothing came of it. I’ve railed about this sort of thing plenty of times in the past, mostly about city offices since I want city elected office to be limited to people who have actual skin in the game, but I have accepted the fact that all I’m doing is banging my head against a wall. The state laws are lax and loosely interpreted as noted – if ten percent of the attention now paid to “voter fraud” was paid instead to where candidates and elected officials actually live, the landscape would be quite different – and the simple fact is that wealthy people can buy a second house or rent an apartment so as to comply with the letter of the law. It is what it is. I appreciate what the Chron is doing here because the only viable avenue for those who care about this is to know whose residency may be in question. You can do with that information whatever you want, I just want you to have it. So there you are.

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