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Langer Residency Challenge More Complicated Than Manhart’s

Logan Manhart violated South Dakota’s residency requirement for Legislative candidates and had to withdraw his illegal candidacy for District 1 House. Meanwhile, Manhart’s Republican friends in Aberdeen are trying to oust Tiffany Langer from the Aberdeen City Council the argument that she’s violating the residency requirement for city office.

In a complaint filed by Trumpist lawyer Kennith L. Gosch May 24, Aberdeen residents David and Julie Shultis allege that Councilwoman Langer moved to Fargo last fall after her husband Scott got a job coaching hockey there. (That job didn’t last a year: the Fargo Force booted Scott at the end of April after Omaha swept Fargo in the first round of the playoffs.) Gosch builds his clients’ case around Langer’s social media posts and city documents showing Langer transferring her home utility bill to a different name and entering into a contract for deed indicating the sale of her Aberdeen home.

Gosch does not build his case on the more statutorily solid evidence of Langer’s voting residence, the kind of evidence that doomed Manhart’s illegal candidacy. According to the South Dakota Voter Information Portal, Tiffany Marie Langer maintains her voting residence in Aberdeen:

SD Voter Information Portal, active voting record for Tiffany Marie Langer, Aberdeen, retrieved 2022.06.13.
Gee whiz, Kennith—she’s even a Republican! SD Voter Information Portal, active voting record for Tiffany Marie Langer, Aberdeen, retrieved 2022.06.13.

Voting residency as defined in SDCL 12-1-4 is the firmest standard for determining eligibility for office. Voting residency does not require that one own a home. It doesn’t even require that one spend a certain number of hours per day or days per year in South Dakota. It only requires that one fix one’s habitation in a certain place and that that place be where the voter intends to return after absences. Thousands of RVers establish voting residency in South Dakota in exactly this way; the state even offers those travelers a Residency Affidvait on which RVers simply say South Dakota is their state of residence and is where they intend to return after being absent, attach a receipt for a one-night stay at the South Dakota RV park or campground or motel they are claiming as a temporary address, and presto! the RVers become South Dakota voting residents with all the rights and privileges and duties (including jury duty!) attached thereto.

When I checked into Logan Manhart’s residency, I found he’d posted all sorts of pictures to Twitter of the good Trumpy times he was having in Wisconsin. Being in Wisconsin for an extended period doesn’t negate one’s South Dakota residency. Manhart left South Dakota for college, and college students can maintain their voting residency back home while they are away. Manhart could easily have said, “Hey, I’m in Wisconsin temporarily; I intend to return to South Dakota,” and maintained his South Dakota voting residency. But he voted in four elections in Wisconsin, from February 2020 through April 2021. Each time he voted in Wisconsin, he was effectively declaring under Wisconsin law that Wisconsin was his place of permanent residence, from which he had no intent to move and to which, when absent, he intended to return. In declaring his Wisconsin residency, through the most sacred action of casting a Wisconsin ballot, Manhart forsook his South Dakota voting residency and his eligibility to run for Legislature in 2022.

I have no evidence that Tiffany Langer has cast a vote in North Dakota. If Gosch can show Langer voting in North Dakota’s primary or in the Fargo’s city election tomorrow, June 14, then he has a slam-dunk case that Langer is not a voting resident of Aberdeen or South Dakota. But Gosch’s complaint offers no evidence that Langer has changed her voting residence. Nor does Gosch’s complaint include any evidence from the private investigator who was snooping into Langer’s child care arrangements, a political dirty trick that Republican blogger Pat Powers called “one of the worst things I’ve read about in a long time“:

I don’t care if it involves a Republican, Democrat, or other political affiliation. If you’re so messed up, you send a private investigator out to ask about an elected officials kids over “city council matters,” the problem might be with you, and you belong nowhere near politics. Because you’re a pretty short step away from being a stalker [Pat Powers, “And It Looks Like Politics Are Pretty Toxic in Aberdeen. Private Investigator Calling Councilwoman’s Babysitter Regarding ‘City Council Matters’,” South Dakota War College, 2022.05.19].

Mayor Travis Schaunaman has been stoking doubt about Langer’s eligibility for City Council. Even though Mayor Schaunaman is named as one of the defendants in this lawsuit along with the entire City Council, the Republican mayor has publicly stated that he has already prejudged the case against his fellow defendant:

The council and I were served today. I had a chance to review the case and speak to a few council members. I don’t think we should have let it go on this long, but we were sympathetic to her and took her at her word. The state law and charter are clear and this evidence appears pretty straight forward to me. We’ll have to wait to see if the court agrees with that assessment [Mayor Travis Schaunaman, statement to Dakota Broadcasting, May 2022].

Langer has kept her public comment on the litigation minimal, although she  made over the weekend of posting her presence in Aberdeen. Last week, Langer and the council responded in court. Langer argues numerous technicalities—primarily, only the council, not the court, can judge members’ qualifications—but also denies the main charge of non-residency:

The lawsuit also alleges that Langer transferred the city utility bill for her house on South Merton Street in Aberdeen to Audra Arampatzis in December 2021 and that Arampatzis’s husband, Zach Swanson, claimed on May 9, 2022, that he was purchasing the Langer home on a contract for deed.

In her response, Langer admits the name on the utility bill was changed, but denies that any contract for deed was executed. According to her response, the name change on the utility bill was done as part of a lease agreement with Arampatzis and Swanson. Per the response, it was a month-to-month oral lease agreement that included a provision to allow Langer to continue living in her Aberdeen home [Elisa Sand, “In Civil Lawsuit, Tiffany Langer, Aberdeen City Council Deny Change in Residency Claims,” Aberdeen News, 2022.06.10].

Gosch may have to appeal to the residency criteria from Heinemeyer v. Heartland 2008, a case Gosch’s fellow Republicans have hesitated to invoke too vocally, as a rigorous application of the Heinemeyer standards could lose them those thousands of license-plate buying RV voters. Absent the hard evidence of out-of-state voting that sank Manhart’s candidacy, Gosch will have to ask a judge to guess at Langer’s intent, making this residency challenge far less cut-and-dried than Manhart’s case.

One Comment

  1. Mark Anderson 2022-06-13 11:34

    Living here, living there, we are all Aberdonians at some point. This argument is similar to the fact that copper wire was invented in Aberdeen by two guys arguing over a penny.

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