Well, this just got real.
For the first time since a pink-robed Lynette Boggs was indicted by a Clark County grand jury in 2007, charges have been brought against a person for allegedly making false claims about their residency in order to run for office last year.
This time, instead of the Republican Boggs indicted at the behest of then-Clark County District Attorney David Roger, Democrat Meghan Smith is the target, with the case brought by Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s office.
Smith claimed to be a resident of Assembly District 34, and won a Democratic primary. But a Clark County District Court judge later concluded that she was ineligible to be elected, since she hadn’t established residency within the 30-day time frame required by state statute.
Republican Victoria Seaman won the general election, after signs were posted in the district notifying voters of Smith’s ineligibility. Smith appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court to get those signs removed, but she was unsuccessful. (Seaman has authored a bill increasing residency requirements that passed the Assembly on a party-line vote on Tuesday.)
The issue is clouded by Article 4, Section 6 of the state Constitution, which reserves the power to judge the elections, qualifications and returns of members to the Senate and Assembly itself. That’s been interpreted to mean that, even if a person whom a judge has found to be ineligible to run were elected, he or she could still be seated. (In fact, that happened; after Andrew Martin was found on the eve of the 2012 election to be ineligible, the Assembly seated him anyway.)
Notably, Smith is not being charged in the grand jury indictment with a violation of the residency law. Instead, she’s being charged with perjury for making allegedly false statements on her signed declaration of candidacy. (Boggs in 2007 was charged with perjury and filing a false instrument, felonies both. The case was fairly ironclad, after unions hired a private investigator to follow her and determine where she really lived. Part of that evidence was her emerging from a home not in her district wearing a pink bathrobe. She ultimately pled guilty to a single gross misdemeanor charge and paid a fine.)
Smith has maintained that she qualified for residency in the district, although she’s acknowledged that she stayed with a friend and in a hotel in the district for part of the period of time necessary to become a bona fide resident.
It’s not clear if Laxalt’s office is also pursuing charges at the grand jury against Jesse “Jake” Holder, another Democrat who was also found to be ineligible because of residency questions when he ran in Assembly District 10 last year.
The indictment definitely sends a signal that Laxalt is pursuing election charges more seriously than they’ve been pursued in the past (Martin, for example, faced no criminal jeopardy in his situation, nor have many other lawmakers who have been alleged to not live in the districts they represented). If nothing else, it should be a disincentive for would-be candidates who try to beat the residency deadline when considering a run for state office.