Council candidate claims she’s lived in Jackson since 2018, but voting history tells different story

New state law imposing two-year residency requirement for candidates may not apply in Jackson council race
Council candidate claims she’s lived in Jackson since 2018, but voting history tells different...
Council candidate claims she’s lived in Jackson since 2018, but voting history tells different story(WLBT)
Published: Nov. 23, 2020 at 1:57 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Ward 2 runoff candidate Angelique Lee’s campaign said unequivocally Thursday that she has lived in the Capital City for at least two years, a statement that contradicts nearly two years’ worth of Lee’s own voting history in Madison County.

Documents obtained by 3 On Your Side from the Hinds County Election Commission show Lee voted in five separate elections in Madison County, likely voting in Ridgeland, her previous address.

The campaign released the statement after 3 On Your Side had been reaching out to Lee for two days to respond to claims she had moved to Jackson last month, an assertion based on Lee changing her voter registration from Ridgeland to the state’s largest city weeks before the special election.

“Ms. Lee has held residence within the ward beyond the period that is prescribed by law. Efforts are being made to use her registration history as evidence that she has not lived in the ward for the legally prescribed period of time,” the statement said. “Ms. Lee freely admits her failure to timely change her voter registration from an address that she temporarily held to the address that she has lived in for more than two years.”

Though Lee’s campaign did not explicitly say this, that reference to “two years” likely refers to the residency requirement in Senate Bill 2030, introduced and passed by lawmakers last year, which states those running for nearly every city and county in the state must have lived in that city or county for two years.

Further investigation reveals that two-year requirement may not be applicable to Jackson city council candidates because Senate Bill 2030 includes an exception for elected offices that already have their own residency requirements.

The statute that applies to the mayor-council form of government -- which Jackson uses -- states city council candidates “must be residents of their wards at the time of qualification for election,” which could be considered a residency requirement.

In that case, according to Senate Bill 2030, its own two-year requirement would not apply.

However, Mississippi College School of Law Professor Matt Steffey said deciding which residency requirement to apply here isn’t as clear cut as one would like.

“Is it unambiguously clear? No. [The mayor-council statute has] a naked residency requirement which doesn’t have to necessarily be read in conflict with a durational residency requirement. That said, they are [both] residency requirements. For reasons, important constitutional values at issue, I’d apply the shorter one and the more specific one, if I were the judge,” Steffey said.

Steffey believes that some of these durational requirements border on being unconstitutional because they could violate the equal protection clause, which protects the fundamental right to travel and vote.

“Running for office, presenting yourself as a candidate, is the mirror image of the right to vote. They are two sides of the same coin,” Steffey said. “And something called the privileges and immunities clause, which basically says you can’t discriminate between in-state citizens, including one that moved neighborhoods two years ago, as opposed to one that moved neighborhoods 18 months ago. If these legal rights are implicated, then a durational residency requirement can only apply if it survives the strictest of legal scrutiny, which it rarely does.”

City Council President Aaron Banks said the council has already started seeking clarification on those requirements from the Secretary of State’s Office and Attorney General’s Office.

“It is important that appointed election commissioners and the municipal clerk are updated on all laws governing municipal elections to uphold public confidence in the City of Jackson’s elections process,” Banks said.

Lee’s campaign referenced the residency concerns multiple times in Thursday’s statement, saying Lee was a duly and legally qualified candidate, meeting all requirements to run for office under Mississippi law, and said motivations from “other campaigns to subvert the will of the people” was at issue here, not whether she lived in Jackson.

Nothing in the statement refuted the fact that Lee had voted in Madison County, and the campaign has not yet addressed those concerns. If Lee did live in Jackson for two years and voted in Madison County multiple times, that would be considered voter fraud.

Lee’s campaign statement claims Jackson municipal election commissioners verified her residency in Jackson, but it’s unclear which statutory requirement the commissioners referenced.

“This issue has been previously presented before the Election Commission and the supporting documents presented by Ms. Lee established both her residency and her legally sufficient qualification to run for office,” the statement said.

Not one of Jackson’s seven municipal election commissioners has publicly confirmed or addressed this, though they did certify Lee last month. 3 On Your Side attempted to reach out to those commissioners, but could not get their names or contact information from multiple city officials, despite asking for this since Wednesday.

These election commissioners, appointed by the Jackson City Council, are not even listed on the city’s website. We emailed Municipal Clerk Angela Harris, the person ultimately in charge of Jackson’s elections, and city spokesperson Meagan Gosa to get that list and a statement regarding our investigation’s findings.

Harris did not respond to requests for comment. Gosa said the municipal election commissioners are on Hinds County’s website, which isn’t true. Hinds County’s election commissioners are listed there, with contact information.

Later, she said that the city is aware that changes need to be made to the website - like adding that list of names so Jacksonians can hold those commissioners accountable when election issues arise.

“We are taking into considerations (sic) the updates that need to be made,” Gosa said.

3 On Your Side asked Deputy City Clerk Kathy Cole for a list of election commissioners and their contact information, a reasonable request because the commissioners are public officials.

“I don’t report to the commissioners,” Cole said, despite the fact that the municipal clerk’s office is over all citywide elections. An employee in the city clerk’s office eventually gave us a number where we could reach them.

When asked for an interview, Commissioner Linda Sanders said she would have to talk to the city’s legal team before she could do that.

“I kind of have an idea of where your questions are headed, so I really want to confirm with them on a few things before I make myself available to any questions,” Sanders said, and agreed to call back once she got that guidance but never did.

Lee’s runoff opponent, former Hinds County Sheriff Tyrone Lewis, said he would not comment on another candidate and how they run their race.

“As for me, I am qualified, I am experienced, and I am ready to serve,” Lewis said. “Jackson has a crime problem and I am ready to tackle the issues. I live in Ward 2 and I have investment properties in Ward 2. Therefore, I want what is best for the residents of Ward 2 and the citizens of Jackson.”

Author’s note: An earlier version of this story stated the two-year residency requirement applied to Lee. A subsequent legal analysis revealed that Senate Bill 2030 may not apply to any city council candidate because of another statute that specifies residency rules for that office. The article has since been edited to clarify that point and reposted.

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