The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation is investigating whether former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows committed felony perjury by claiming a false residence on his North Carolina voter registration form in September 2020 and casting a vote he was not qualified to cast in the North Carolina 2020 general election. His wife may also face investigation and prosecution for claiming the same fake residence for voting purposes.
The Meadowses’ case may weigh on tens of thousands of “South Dakotans” who claim voting residence at a variety of South Dakota mail-forwarding storefronts while traveling the country in recreational vehicles and living on the road. North Carolina’s voting residence statute reads very much like South Dakota’s. I below I quote the first four main clauses of North Carolina General Statute 163-57 and all four clauses of the notably less verbose South Dakota Codified Law 12-1-4:
|NCGS 163-57||SDCL 12-1-4|
|That place shall be considered the residence of a person in which that person’s habitation is fixed, and to which, whenever that person is absent, that person has the intention of returning…||For the purposes of this title, the term, residence, means the place in which a person has fixed his or her habitation and to which the person, whenever absent, intends to return.|
|A person shall not be considered to have lost that person’s residence if that person leaves home and goes into another state, county, municipality, precinct, ward, or other election district of this State, for temporary purposes only, with the intention of returning.||A person who has left home and gone into another state or territory or county of this state for a temporary purpose only has not changed his or her residence.|
|A person shall not be considered to have gained a residence in any county, municipality, precinct, ward, or other election district of this State, into which that person comes for temporary purposes only, without the intention of making that county, municipality, precinct, ward, or other election district a permanent place of abode.||A person is considered to have gained a residence in any county or municipality of this state in which the person actually lives, if the person has no present intention of leaving.|
|If a person removes to another state or county, municipality, precinct, ward, or other election district within this State, with the intention of making that state, county, municipality, precinct, ward, or other election district a permanent residence, that person shall be considered to have lost residence in the state, county, municipality, precinct, ward, or other election district from which that person has removed.||If a person moves to another state, or to any of the other territories, with the intention of making it his or her permanent home, the person thereby loses residence in this state.|
Both North Carolina and South Dakota define voting residence in terms of fixed habitation and intention to return from temporary absences. Both states deny voting residence to someone who moves in temporarily but does not intend to stay. North Carolinians and South Dakotans lose their voting residence if they move out with an intent to stay someplace else permanently.
Both states’ voter registration forms underscore the requirement of real, permanent residency. North Carolina asks residents registering to vote to “provide your residential address—where you physically live.” South Dakota requires voters to declare under penalty perjury that they “actually live at and have no present intention of leaving the above address.”
The phrases physically live and actually live seem to give courts plenty of room to reject claims of residence based on occasional visits and demand proof of what any reasonable person would view as regular, everyday habitation, the place where a voter sleeps every night, or at the very least the primary residence the voter maintains as the place to which the voter will return once the voter’s work or college studies or vacation or other interruptions are done. As the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled in Heinemeyer v. Heartland 2008, occasionally sleeping, dining, and getting mail at a place where one pays rent—the basis of RVers’ claim that they “live” in South Dakota—are not enough to establish residency.
Mark Meadows and his wife do not physically live at the residence they claimed when they registered to vote in North Carolina in 2020. The high-profile investigation of this false residency claim could cast an unwelcome light on the tens of thousands of individuals who do not actually live in South Dakota’s mailbox-rental storefronts but have been voting in South Dakota elections.