State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Rahm’s Residency: Not a Problem?

According to several news articles, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is moving back to Chicago to run for mayor.  Several news organizations and election lawyers question whether he qualifies as a resident of Chicago.  Rahm Emanuel is registered to vote in Chicago where his car is registered but leased his house to another family.  To run for mayor in Chicago, you must maintain a city residence for one year.

It is striking how similar the facts surrounding Rahm Emanuel’s residency in Chicago are to the seminal, Virginia case on voter residency: Sachs v Horan.  Daniel Sachs was registered to vote and owned a home in Fairfax County.  Sachs had a minimum, one year employment contract outside of Fairfax so he rented a house in Washington County and leased his house in Fairfax to another person.  All the while, Sachs paid property taxes to, registered his vehicle in, and had a driver’s license from Fairfax County.  He was seeking employment closer to home and hoped to return to his house in Fairfax.  In reviewing his residency for voter registration, the Supreme Court of Virginia held that Sachs did not “live in that locality with the intent to remain there for an unlimited time” nor did he have the requisite “place of abode” to establish residency for voter registration.

Generally speaking, residency has physical and mental requirements; similar to the actus rea and mens rea in criminal law.  Virginia law requires a place of abode or “a physical place where a person dwells.”  Residency also requires the intent to remain in a location for an unlimited time.  There exist some important exceptions and subtleties to the basic requirements of residency.  Virginia law recognizes that people may leave their homes for periods of time but are still residents of their homes.  Examples include persons who leave for vacation, school, or an emergency.  Specific absences are permitted for people who lose their place of abode when they are in the military or are overseas.

Another important subtlety is how quickly one’s residency can change.  A person who moves back into a house that they previously leased could quickly develop the intent to remain for an unlimited time and thus fulfill the requirements for voter residency.  In Dunn v Blunstein the Supreme Court struck down Tennesee’s durational requirements for voter residency.  A couple articles already pointed out that Rahm Emanuel could rent another house or move into an apartment in Chicago to establish residency for voter registration.  History is full of candidates who moved into an area and quickly established residency.

An important distinction between Sachs and Dunn and Rahm Emanuel is that the two cases concern residency for voter registration whereas Emanuel is also concerned with residency for candidacy.  Virginia’s Constitution has a similar requirement for certain candidates to be residents for one year prior to their election.  While a person may be a resident for voter registration, they may not fulfill the residency qualifications for candidacy.

Finally, it is important to note that every state has its own set of election laws.  According to one news article, Rahm Emanuel fulfilled Chicago’s residency requirements. “If you are a registered voter and continue to vote from your residence, you establish what we consider the intent to be a resident of the city of Chicago,” Chicago Election Board Chairman Langdon Neal said.  In many ways, the ultimate test will be determined on election day when the residents of Chicago decide if Rahm Emanuel should lead the windy city.

Edit: Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden explains here that Rahm Emanel probably won’t have a problem establishing his Chicago residency, and thus his eligibility to serve as Mayor, given that he had a home there to which he always intended to return.

James Alcorn is the Deputy Secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections.

The opinions expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily represent the opinion of the State Board of Elections or any other official.


There was no greater advocate of this procedure, and no greater sceptic of the american way, than britains most eminent surgeon, frederick treves, and it was he who was now called to the kings bedside.
Print Friendly

1 Comment

  1. There is a lesser known second half of the Sachs v. Horan case. Daniel Sachs also tried to register in Washington County Virginia but was denied on the ground that he lack residency intent in that jurisdiction. Residency in the Commonwealth of Virginia is a two part test: Domicile (intent to live) and place of abode (a place to live). The real problem in Sachs v. Horan is that Mr. Sachs had domicile in one jurisdiction and a place of abode in another and therefore was denied the right to vote.

Comments are closed.

© 2021 State of Elections

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑