Iowa requirement on candidates living in district impossible to enforce

Published: Oct. 25, 2022 at 8:45 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Two candidates changed their address to run in specific districts this November. One candidate, Sen. Jack Whitver (R-Grimes), claims to reside in a home records show hasn’t used water since February.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, Iowa law requires candidates for the state legislature have residency for at least 60 days before the general election along with living in the state for one year. Our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team in a collaboration with our sister station KCCI Investigates in Des Moines found the law is virtually unenforceable because nobody is checking to ensure candidates live in their district.

Woodbury County Auditor Pat Gill (D) said people can register to vote at an address, which becomes somebody’s residency, with no other supporting documentation. He said state law requires county auditors to assume the information is correct and his office doesn’t have the resources to check every voter registration.

“It would be an impossibility to check every one of those voter registrations as they come in and I think the law relies on your swearing on the affidavit the information is correct,” Gill said.

He said the only exceptions are if another voter files a complaint or if the post office returns voter registration mail as undeliverable. According to voter registration forms, people giving false information on a voter registration form could get convicted of perjury and fined up to $10,245 and/or a jail sentence for up to five years.

Kevin Hall, who is a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office, told TV9 the same assumption made on voter registration applications is made on nomination petitions as well. He also said the law doesn’t allow counties to look at a candidate’s voter registration profile.

“All election officials, including county auditors, are required to apply the law in a uniform and nondiscriminatory manner,” Hall said. “They cannot more closely scrutinize one voter registration form, because the voter happens to be a candidate for public office, and they cannot add extra steps that do not exist in the law.”

Derek Wulf House District 76

Derek Wulf (R-Black Hawk County) has talked with the Iowa Beef Industry Council in the past about living on his family farm in Hudson with his wife and two kids, who attend the Hudson Community School District. He has told newspapers, like the North Tama Telegraph, he’s a resident of Hudson.

According to the Black Hawk County Assessor’s Office, Derek Wulf holds the deed on 9212 Holmes Road, Hudson, and is eligible for the homestead tax credit for 2022 and 2023. The tax credit, according to the Iowa Department of Revenue, is given if the person owns and occupies the property as a homestead. Neighbors at the house across the street told TV9 Derek Wulf lives at the farmhouse located at 9212 Holmes Road, Hudson.

The farm’s address is in House District 54, which contains Hardin County, Gundy County, and western Black Hawk County. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, Republican Joshua Meggers (R-Grundy Center) is running in House District 54 unopposed.

But, Wulf’s residence isn’t in Hudson. According to his voter registration, which our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team requested, Wulf’s residence is at 8719 Hawkeye Road, Waterloo as of April 2022.

This move allows him to run for the state legislature in House District 76, which contains southern Black Hawk County, northwest Benton County, and northeast Tama County.

According to the Black Hawk County Assessor’s website, Wulf moved into a property owned by Russell Lee Seekins. Records from the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board show Seekins donated $26.03 to the campaign the day after Wulf moved his voter registration. Seekins told TV9 Wulf moved into a room in the home.

Wulf declined an interview with our i9 Investigative Team about the discrepancy and his reasons for moving. He said he is a resident of his district and believes his opponent is making rumors about her residency.

“Personally, I think it’s sad,” he said. “She’s so desperate to win and can’t talk about her stance on the issues because frankly, she’s so out of touch with the views of the folks in our district.”

Wulf is running against Kate Wyatt (D-Hudson). TV9 reached out to the Iowa Democrats and Kate Wyatt for a comment on the residency issue and didn’t hear back by publication. Jeff Kaufmann, who is the Iowa Republican Party Chair, said in a written statement all of its candidates are legal residents before attacking KCRG-TV9′s reporting.

Sen. Jack Whitver House District 23

State Sen. Jack Whitver (R-Grimes), who is also the Senate Majority Leader, is running for his seat in Senate District 23. The district contains Alleman, Bondurant, Bouton, and other townships surrounding the Des Moines Metro.

His voter registration, which our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team received through a public records request, shows he moved his residency from a home in Ankeny to an apartment in Grimes two months ago.

Records our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team received show the apartment hasn’t used water since around February. Sen. Whitver didn’t respond to an interview request from our sister station in Des Moines, but a spokesperson told TV9 that Sen. Whitver resides at the grimes apartment in a written statement.

Sen. Whitver’s old home in Ankeny is located in Senate District 21, where another incumbent Republican lawmaker is running for the seat.

Other Moves

Politicians are known to move after redistricting to avoid facing off against other incumbents. Sarah Trone Garriott (D-West Des Moines) moved out of her former Windsor Heights address after she was drawn in the same district as Sen. Clair Celsi (D-Des Moines). The deed changed hands, according to Polk County records on January 2022.

Regardless, Iowa has seen residency disputes in the past after the elections. Almost 9 years ago, Marion had a dispute over where its then-Mayor, Snooks Bouska, lived. His driver’s license listed a Marion apartment. But, he also owned a home about 12 minutes away in Hiawatha. Marion’s city council eventually ruled Bouska met its residency requirement.

Woodbury County Auditor Pat Gill said he’s overseen two different voter registration challenges during his time in office, which resulted in him canceling one voter registration. He said he believes the decision should move to district court judges rather than county auditors due to the lack of case law in the area.