Politicians live in the towns or cities they represent because it allows them to best gauge the needs of their constituents. Having legislators reside in the area they represent also ensures that they face the results of their own votes in the state capitol.
Whether your local representative has paid to own a house or rent an apartment in the appropriate district is not as important as him or her actually living there. If the law required legislators to only own property in the place they represent in the Legislature, what would stop them from carrying on their lives far away?
Gordon Mank Jr., a Republican, acknowledged recently that he has lived at the Hospitality House in Rockport since 1999, even though he’s running for the Maine House District 47 seat that represents Rockland and part of Owls Head.
Mank, who grew up in Rockland, may know Rockland quite well. He may have contributed to the city, having owned a three-unit apartment building on Grace Street and paid property taxes. He may be well-intentioned, having run the Rockport homeless shelter with his wife for 13 years.
But if he doesn’t meet legal residency definitions, he shouldn’t be running to represent the district. It’s not a matter of party or politics. It’s a matter of law and ethics.
Mank’s situation also sheds a light on another issue: the time constraints of when someone can challenge a candidate’s nomination.
In order for people to qualify to run in a primary election, they must collect the minimum number of valid signatures and file them by 5 p.m. on March 15 with the Department of the Secretary of State. In addition to the petition signatures, they must submit a written consent, which declares, among other things, their place of residence.
For guidance, a candidate or voter can refer to the secretary of state’s election guidebook, which explains, per the Maine Constitution, that “no person may be a candidate unless, at the time of nomination for placement on the primary, general or special election ballot, that person is a resident of the district which the candidate seeks to represent.”
To find out the definition of “residence,” you must turn to Maine law, which describes it as the place where “the person has established a fixed and principal home to which the person, whenever temporarily absent, intends to return.”
Mank was registered to vote in Rockland, and on his voter registration card he listed 81B Grace St. as his residence. But if he wasn’t physically living in the apartment, it probably doesn’t qualify as his residence.
Mank, who is facing Democrat Elizabeth Dickerson in the election, has said he doesn’t plan to drop out. And, the secretary of state’s office has said that it doesn’t have the authority to act on any complaints because the window to challenge his nomination has closed.
There are two ways people can remedy the matter.
The first is for Rockland voters who go to the polls on Nov. 6 to be knowledgeable about the situation and decide whether the kind of maneuverings they have seen are what they want from an elected official.
Second, the time frame for someone to file a complaint is too short. According to state law, a registered voter residing in the affected district may file a challenge by the end of the fifth business day after March 15, which is the final date for filing petitions.
Instead of the state occupying itself with perceived voter fraud, it might be more effective for it to examine extending the dispute period, so legitimate challenges don’t get put aside for no reason other than an arbitrary deadline.
Running for office and serving as a representative is often demanding, thankless work. But candidates must follow the law in order to ensure a fair election process and fair representation.