The number of citizens hoping to win political offices in next year’s election is encouraging and exciting. Robust participation in the political process is a sign that people are interested in the effectiveness with which government serves the people.
I think the Whitley County Fiscal Court’s decision this year to update voting machines in the county was a step in the right direction. The whole idea of democratically elected leaders falls apart if people don’t have confidence their votes actually count.
Whether valid or invalid, there were a good number of people who felt as though the old machines were too susceptible to being "rigged" and vote totals falsified. Our leaders have taken prudent steps in an attempt to restore trust in the election process.
But more needs to be done.
I think the issue of residency of candidates and voters needs to be more clearly defined and addressed.
I vividly remember during our last big election locally that there were many questions surrounding whether candidates were actually qualified to run for certain offices based on where they lived. One candidate dropped out of the Corbin Mayor’s race under suspicion that he actually resided in southern Laurel County, not Corbin. A second candidate in the race was challenged as well. Both prompted the filing of lawsuits. There was even a court hearing conducted regarding where a magistrate candidate actually lived. He was allowed to run, and lost, but I don’t think the issue of his residency was ever totally cleared up.
For those who don’t know, there are certain qualifications every candidate must meet to run for office. For instance, if you are not a citizen of the United States, well then you can’t run. One of the big ones is residency. To be Corbin Mayor, just as an example, you must live in the city for at least one year prior to being elected.
As a reporter, I tried to determine if a few of the candidates in the last election were maybe bending the rules regarding where they actually lived. But a whole host of issues cropped up that I never anticipated.
Basically, a candidate’s voter registration and driver’s license address are the determining factors in whether they can run for a certain office. The problem is this – it is not uncommon for both voters and candidates to use things like business offices, rental properties, vacant homes garnered in an estate, P.O. Boxes, the homes of family members, empty fields in the country and anything else they can dream up to use as their residence when they register to vote or get a license.
I know one person that continued to vote in Laurel County elections YEARS after he actually moved to another county. He used his parent’s address to get a license.
The remedy for these shenanigans is insufficient. You can turn somebody into to the local Board of Elections and they MAY then force that person to vote in the proper place if it can be proved they falsified their voter registration.
If you want to challenge a candidate’s residency qualifications, you must file a lawsuit in court. Good luck with that!
For a start, I think stiff criminal penalties against these practices could provide some deterrent.
The bigger problem is that where someone "resides" actually has no clear legal definition. How often do they have to sleep in a place, for instance, to be considered to "reside" in it? Is once a year enough? Half of the time? What about people who spend six or seven months out of the year in Florida, then come back to Kentucky the rest of the year? Where do they actually live? Do they qualify or not?
I have seen many people, who I thought lived here, with license plates on their vehicles from Tennessee and Georgia and Florida and other places. Surely something is amiss here? It’s so confusing.
I think the state legislature should put a finer point on what "residency" actually means and tighten up the requirements to run for office. I’d hate to think the local school board member I voted for actually lives in Louisville!