News reports recently surfaced revealing that U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is registered to vote at her parents’ home in New Orleans, which she also lists as her primary residence. But she also has a home in the District of Columbia and spends a substantial amount of time there. Political opponents question whether she is an inhabitant of Louisiana and have urged elected officials to investigate her qualifications. If she isn’t an inhabitant, after all, she fails to meet the Constitution’s qualifications for members of the United States Senate. But the dispute about whether she is an inhabitant is not a question for state election officials or judges to decide ahead of an election. It’s a question for the voters on Election Day, and for Congress after the election. The Constitution requires that a senator must, “when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.” The words “when elected” are important. It doesn’t require that a candidate be an inhabitant for months or years before an election. It only requires someone be an inhabitant of the state on Election Day.
We won’t know whether Sen. Landrieu meets this requirement until Election Day is upon us. But as long as a candidate is an inhabitant on Election Day, the Constitution’s requirements are met. Louisiana law includes an identical requirement — and it must, because states cannot add to the qualifications enumerated in the Constitution.
It doesn’t matter if Sen. Landrieu is an inhabitant today. As long as she is an inhabitant of Louisiana on Nov. 4, she is eligible to serve in Congress. Indeed, Congress has previously seated individuals who moved into a state as little as days before Election Day.