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Government & Politics

Maryland Will Take a Fresh Look at Decades-Old Issue of Where Lawmakers Call Home

The Maryland State House as seen from Main Street in Annapolis. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Maryland will have a new set of state legislative districts for the next election regardless of how court challenges against the recently adopted map shake out — leaving some incumbents and challengers alike wondering whether they live in the district they’re vying to represent.

Regardless of who ends up in which district, one of the questions that will face voters on their ballots in November is whether Maryland should change its rules for how to determine where a candidate “lives.” And lawmakers are considering still more tweaks in the 2022 General Assembly session.

Maryland legislators are required by law to reside in the district they represent — but whether they must regularly sleep in their district has been questioned in the past.

The Maryland Constitution requires that lawmakers live in Maryland for at least a year before the general election, and to “reside” in their district for at least six months before the general election if it was set up at least six months before the election.

The state constitution also stipulates that, if a district was set up less than six months before the general election, then lawmakers or candidates will need to have lived in that district since its establishment.

In 1998, former Del. Frank D. Boston Jr. (D) filed a lawsuit arguing that then-Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount (D), a trailblazing Black political leader in Baltimore City, lived primarily in Pikesville rather than in his northwest Baltimore District. An Anne Arundel County judge said Blount couldn’t run for office in his district, The Baltimore Sun reported at the time, because an “overwhelming” amount of evidence pointed to Blount not living there.

Blount kept an apartment in northwest Baltimore with no telephone and only a futon to sleep on, but the Maryland Court of Appeals later overturned that ruling, arguing that a “domicile” doesn’t necessarily mean a lawmaker’s primary residence.

“If the residency requirement for representing a particular legislative district in the General Assembly were that one must have his or her primary place of abode in that district, we would have affirmed the judgment of the court below,” Court of Appeals Judge John C. Eldrige wrote in 1998. “Under such a requirement, many prior cases in this Court would have been decided differently. The requirement, however, is that one must be domiciled in the district, and domicile is not synonymous with the primary place of abode.”

Eldrige wrote that it was “not unreasonable” for Blount, who was 77 years old at the time, to want to spend most of his time in Pikesville to be with his family and recuperate from surgeries.

“His conduct in this regard is explained by his wife’s decision to make the Pikesville condominium her sole place of abode,” Eldrige wrote. “In light of this, Senator Blount’s conduct is not inconsistent with his intent to remain a domiciliary of Baltimore City until he retires.”

The late Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D), who was close to Blount, concurred with the high court’s ruling, The Baltimore Sun reported at the time.

“You can sleep in Rehoboth, if you want, at your beach house, as long as you go to your district office every day and you vote in your district,” and pay taxes there, Miller said. “I think they are saying they are willing to look at the totality of circumstances.”

Eldridge’s decision came to be known as “the Clarence Blount Rule,” and it has come to guide some candidates’ decisions about the districts where they choose to run — and influences certain court decisions as well.

But voters could change that in November: A proposed state constitutional amendment will appear on the ballot that would require candidates to “maintain a primary place of abode” in their prospective district for at least six months before the general election.

That proposed amendment, put forward by Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County), was passed by lawmakers last year. In testimony supporting that measure, Sydnor argued that if lawmakers spend most of their time living outside of their district, it would “prevent a true understanding of the issues that their constituents’ day to day experiences.”

Sydnor said in his testimony that the Blount ruling “harms constituents because it opens up the possibility that they may be represented by someone who does not understand the needs of their community and may not have their best interests at heart.”

If voters approve that measure, it would take effect in 2024.

Some Maryland lawmakers are also looking to require state officials to look at more factors when determining whether someone actually lives in the district.

Senate Bill 63, sponsored by Sens. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County) and Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard), and cross-filed as House Bill 320 by Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins (D-Montgomery), would require state election officials and courts to consider a slew of additional factors when determining whether a lawmaker meets the constitutional residency requirement.

Factors included for determining residency under that legislation are:

  • The address listed on a the candidate’s driver’s license or state-issued identification card.
  • Whether a candidate receives mail at their claimed address.
  • Whether the building claimed as a lawmakers’ address is zoned for residential use.
  • Whether a candidate owns, rents or leases the property claimed as their address.
  • If a candidate can prove they paid for and used utilities at their claimed address.
  • If any children of the candidate are registered for school at the address.
  • If a candidate’s spouse or immediate family members live at that address.
  • Whether that address is also listed in records like income tax returns and employment records.
  • And whether a candidate is an active-duty member of the military.

Wilkins said in an interview that the bill wouldn’t add new requirements, but rather is meant to add specific factors for officials to consider when determining whether someone actually meets the residency requirement.

“Some of the ones that are more obvious probably are considered by the courts, but nothing is in law currently around what some of those considerations are,” Wilkins said. “So I think that what this bill does, it makes it clear for all parties involved.”

If enacted, the new residency factors would go into effect on Oct. 1, 2022. That means those factors would be considered for the newly drawn legislative districts passed by the General Assembly in January. The new districts largely mirror previous ones, though the city of Baltimore includes one less Senate district and other boundary shifts increase Democratic voters in closely contested districts. The state’s new legislative map is set to be challenged in the Court of Appeals after several petitions were filed against the plan.

The Senate version of the residency bill received an airing in the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Jan. 26, and the House version had a brief hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 8.

At the Jan. 26 hearing, Kelley said the legislation would also be helpful for the General Assembly counsel’s annual review of lawmakers.

“We all look bad when the public thinks that we aren’t abiding by the law,” Kelley said at that hearing.

While the Maryland Constitution requires that state lawmakers reside in the districts they represent, the same is not true for Congress. The Constitution requires representatives to live in the state they represent, but not necessarily the same district.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify state constitutional requirements for residency in state legislative districts.


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Maryland Will Take a Fresh Look at Decades-Old Issue of Where Lawmakers Call Home