Did I spurn California for good?
February 13, 2006 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Help me not commit voter fraud.

I am from Calfornia and will always consider it my home. In the fall of 2003 I moved abroad for a year, and while there voted absentee in the recall election. After that (about 18 months ago), I moved to DC for grad school and, in a fit of convenience overtaking allegiance, I registered to vote locally even though (to my understanding) as a student I was still legally allowed to vote in California.

I have since graduated and am still living in DC, but I'd like to reregister to vote in California. Can I?

The California Secretary of State website is vague on what constitutes residency. My impression is that the following supports my claim:
(a) I have not lived or registered to vote in another state,
(b) DC residents are, for higher-education purposes, considered residents in every state's public schools,
(c) I intend to move back to California at some (uncertain) point in the future and am psychologically invested in this fall's elections there,
(d) My driver's license* and main bank account are still Californian, and
(e) My "permanent address" (where my father lives and where some of my mail is still delivered) is in California.

On the other hand:
(a) I don't actually live there,
(b) I am over 25 and not a student, and
(c) I have voted (2004) in another jurisdiction since I left.

Since there's a possibility I could work for the federal government in the future, I'd really rather not do something that may even have the appearance of illegality. I know people who vote in jurisdictions other than where they actually live, but that's not my business. So...any experts out there with definitive answers?

*My driver's license expires in two months. Anyone know if I can legally renew it by mail, using my father's address?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (13 answers total)
I'd really rather not do something that may even have the appearance of illegality.

I think you've answered your own question there. If it's unclear to you it may be unclear to others. You want to avoid even the appearance of illegality, and you yourself are concerned about the legality of doing so, so it's reasonable to conclude that it may appear illegal to others, regardless of whether it is or not.

If you're still interested in the legality, I won't presume to interpret California election law, but you might find reading that directly more useful than trying to go by what's on the Secretary of State's website. Especially the "Determination of Residence and Domicile sections.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:43 AM on February 13, 2006

I have since graduated and am still living in DC, but I'd like to reregister to vote in California. Can I?

I suspect the answer is no, not unless you've taken steps to establish that DC is not your permanent residence or you're a state or federal elected official (most election codes grant great latitude in determining permanent residence to elected officials). Have you been paying California state taxes on your income? Do you own a home for which you've claimed a homeowner's property tax exemption or rent property for which you've claimed renter's tax credit? If you're really interested, you can review California's Election Code section on Determination of Residence and Domicile. It comes down to whether or judge considering the law and the evidence of your intent would decide that you are a resident of California. For example, if you pay taxes in DC or your children attend school in DC, a judge considering these facts would likely decide that it is your intent is to make DC a permanent residence.

My driver's license expires in two months. Anyone know if I can legally renew it by mail, using my father's address?

No. From the DC DMV:
A licensed driver who moves to the District from another jurisdiction is required to convert a valid out-of-state driver's license to a DC driver's license if remaining in DC for more than 30 days.
While I don't think you'd be violating California law if you apply for a California Driver's license using your father's address, you appear to already be in violation of DC law. Note that DC requires that out-of-state license be relinquished in order to obtain a D.C. license.
posted by RichardP at 9:47 AM on February 13, 2006

I am sorry I am not an expert, but since you're worried about how things look: If you don't want the appearance of illegality, this has that appearance. If you want to know for certain call the California Secretary of State, period. Not doing that and getting the definitive answer (which it sounds like maybe you don't want to hear) also has the appearance of illegality. Anecdotally, I voted in Washington State long after I had a legally-defined residence elsewhere.
posted by jessamyn at 9:48 AM on February 13, 2006

Fundamentally, I think you're fine as long as you actually vote in only one place. Registration to vote doesn't affect any outcomes, it's only the actual voting that does.

Personally, I wouldn't be worried about being registered in multiple places. They keep records of whether or not you show, so it'd be easy to demonstrate you weren't being malicious if a question ever came up.

Just be _really_ sure you don't request absentee ballots from two places, because AFAIK, issuing a ballot counts as 'having voted', even if you don't mail one of them back.
posted by Malor at 9:51 AM on February 13, 2006

When your California absentee ballot arrives, it may have a line asking you to swear that you are a bona fide resident, not registered elsewhere. If so. your conscience may kick in.
posted by Cranberry at 1:37 PM on February 13, 2006

getting an absentee ballot counts as 'having voted', even if you don't mail one of them back.

No, it doesn't. Election offices keep track of who returned absentee ballots, and (typically) check the signature on the ballot against the signature on the voter rolls. In fact, a lot of places (like Washington State) allow a person to be a "permanent" absentee voter - you get mailed an absentee ballot for EVERY election you can vote in, without specifically requesting one.

As for the main question: Karl Rove is still voting in Texas, even though he hasn't lived there since 2000. He does own property there, albeit property where he has never resided. Of course, he has a bit more political sway there than you might have in California.
posted by WestCoaster at 1:38 PM on February 13, 2006

ahem, If so, comma not period
posted by Cranberry at 1:39 PM on February 13, 2006

It isn't true that DC residents are considered residents in every state's public schools. What you are thinking of is a program that gives DC residents a grant to cover the difference between out-of-state and in-state tuition at any public university.

And although DC is not a state (and we miss out on many benefits of statehood, like being represented in Congress), in most legal/governmental contexts, DC is included in the definition of "state," so your argument that you haven't registered in another "state" is not going to fly.
posted by clarissajoy at 2:06 PM on February 13, 2006

*My driver's license expires in two months. Anyone know if I can legally renew it by mail, using my father's address?

IANAL, so I won't speak to the legality, but California will let you renew by mail, usually. Fill out this form and mail it with a check. I recently did this, while living overseas, and had the new license mailed to my mail forwarding service in Nevada, which charged me quite a bit to forward it to me here.

OTOH, I am returning to California in a few months, own property there, pay taxes there, my current resident country allows me to drive with a CA license for up to a year, and I'm not trying to claim that I'm a full-time resident of one state, while living in another.

The District, however, wants you to get one of their licenses within 30 days, so they can collect the $39 that they're legally entitled to.

Lots of District residents have licenses from other states, but if I wanted to leave a squeaky clean paper trail, I'd go ahead and convert it.

Besides, when you go back to California, you'll have the pleasure of bouncers looking at your DC license and saying "But, that's not a state -- this thing's fake".
posted by toxic at 2:22 PM on February 13, 2006

My experience may be of interest. I moved from Maryland to DC in 1982, and lived there for 4.5 years before moving to California. Of course I changed my automobile stuff to DC ('cause you can get a nasty ticket if you let that slide) but I never bothered with the voting stuff, just kept returning to my old high school gym every other November. Just before I moved Out West I got a summons for DC Jury Duty -- take that, those of you who think it's based only on Voter Registration, and not DMV records!

Wasn't I worried about voter fraud? Nope. There's a lot of sketchy behavior like this going on in DC, what with congressional staff and what-not coming and going.
posted by Rash at 2:27 PM on February 13, 2006

As far as being registered in multiple places, Michael Moore was signed up in Michigan and NY and has not been hauled off to jail yet. I'm sure there's at least thousands of people with similar situations. Not that that's something you need to get into.

Reading the Calif. election law is probably a safe bet, but residency is a tricky thing. How do you define where you "reside"? A city councilwoman in my hometown was accused of living in another city about 30 minutes away. The house she claimed as her residence in our city had an unkempt lawn and the water had been turned off for nearly a year. She said when she needed water, she went to her parents' house in the other town. Her neighbors (in my city) filed a formal complaint.

The result? The judge denied the complaint, saying that there was no real definition of residency and that if she had spent some time in the house in the past year (or month or something), she was fine. But Georgia and California may be way different on this.

I actually went and read the California election code section linked above, and while IANAL, this sounds like the relevant part for you:

If a person moves to another state as a place of permanent residence, with the intention of remaining there for an indefinite time, he or she loses his or her domicile in this state, notwithstanding that he or she intends to return at some future time. (bolding mine)

Let's accept the proposition from clarissajoy that DC is a "state". In that case, the first (c) in your original post actually means that you don't have a right to vote in California.

Now, put all that aside. You have a residence in the Golden State. It probably would not be hard to say that it is your "domicile" for voting purposes. Assuming you're not going to be an absentee office holder in the near future, it's highly unlikely anyone will ever know or care, as long as you drop your DC registration (so it appears that you "moved", at least in a legal sense, and so that you're not on the rolls in two places). I'm not going to advise you to do what seems to be somewhat illegal... but vote where your heart is.

One last thing -- did you ever officially cancel your Calif registration? If not, you've been on both rolls the entire time; can't you just cancel your DC registration to, um, correct the oversight?
posted by SuperNova at 2:45 PM on February 13, 2006

If only you'd stayed in an "almshouse or asylum", you'd be okay with CA.
posted by meehawl at 3:02 PM on February 13, 2006

There's a lot of sketchy behavior like this going on in DC, what with congressional staff and what-not coming and going.

As I understand it, Congressional staff can vote in their home state if they work for a member who is also from their home state.

anon, you will be committing fraud if you do this. You will probably not be caught, but it'll be against the law.
posted by jaysus chris at 5:34 PM on February 13, 2006

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