Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have something in common (as strange as that sounds)—they both seem to be turning out first-time voters. But before those newly-minted participants in democracy can cast their ballots, there are a few boxes to be checked. Registration is often the first step for those voters towards casting their first-ever vote—it’s required in 49 states (North Dakota does not have voter registration). And when it comes to registering to vote, it’s all about residency. Residency requirements matter in elections. They are one of the basic requirements for voting, along with age, U.S. citizenship and other factors. While those requirements have clear yes or no answers (you either are or aren’t old enough to vote; you’re either a U.S. citizen or not) residency requirements are more complex.
… But first, a bit of history. Voter residency requirements have been a part of elections in the United States since the very beginning. The Founding Fathers only wanted people who “had a stake” in society exercising the franchise. That meant people not only needed to reside in a state to vote there, but own land in it as well. Since then, our understanding of who has a sufficient stake in society to vote has expanded, but the core concept remains. At a fundamental level our political system is predicated on the idea that voter’s rights are properly limited to communities in which a voter belongs and a way of determining that is residency.
Robert Frost said “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Then again, Robert Frost never wrote any election laws. At its most basic level, residency is about where someone lives. Of course, where someone lives can be up for debate. People move around; some people own more than one home, some people split their time between states because of work or school. It’s one of those issues where the law runs up against the messy reality of human life. Since defining where a person lives can be complicated, a key element of residency is voter intent. “Residency is a state of mind,” said Doug Lewis, founder of The Election Center.
Almost every state has laws that define what it means to be a resident for voting purposes. Residency definitions generally have two basic components: where you live, and how long you have lived there. In terms of where you live, the North Dakota Century Code provides a good example: “[residency] is the place where one remains when not called elsewhere for labor or other special or temporary purposes and to which the person returns in seasons of repose.” Doesn’t the phrase “seasons of repose,” a time for rest, just make you feel right at home?
Full Article: The Canvass | May 2016.