A state appellate court has rejected Rep. Art Fierro’s (D-El Paso) attempt to force declare Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez (D-El Paso) ineligible based on not meeting the residency requirement. In a per curiam ruling (PDF), the 8th Court of Appeals concluded “Ordez Perez satisfied the constitutional residency requirement” and El Paso Co. Democratic Chair Dora Oaxaca “did not err by declining to remove Ordaz Perez’s name from the ballot at Fierro’s request.”
El Paso Co. lost HD76 to Fort Bend Co. after redistricting, forcing the pairing of two representatives. Ordaz Perez was initially paired with Rep. Lina Ortega (D-El Paso) in HD77 (Safe D) but moved into HD79 (Safe D) to challenge Fierro instead. Ordaz Perez changed her voter registration to the HD79 address in October, roughly two months before she filed for the race.
Fierro contended Ordaz Perez does not meet the eligibility requirements under Section 141.001, Election Code. In relevant part, that provision requires a candidate to:
- Have resided continuously in the state for 12 months
- Have resided continuously in the territory from which the office is elected for six months immediately preceding … the date of the regular filing deadline for a candidate’s application for a place on the ballot, and
- Be registered to vote in the territory from which the office is elected by the filing deadline, which was December 11.
Fierro argued Ordaz Perez does not meet the second of these requirements – residency for six months prior to the filing deadline – and thus is ineligible to seek the office. In addition, Fierro argued her voter registration at the new address does not become effective until 30 days after it is filed, which would mean she did not meet the constitutional 12-month residency requirement either.
However, that same section of the Election Code stipulates that those relevant requirements do “not apply to an office for which the federal or state constitution or a statute outside this code prescribes exclusive eligibility requirements.” Article III, Section 7 of the Texas Constitution provides that a person running for state representative must:
- Be a U.S. citizen
- Be a “qualified voter” of Texas “at the time of his election”
- Have been a resident of the state for two years prior to election day, “the last year thereof a resident of the district,” and
- Be 21 years old at the time of election.
“His election” here refers to the general election, which will be held November 8. Ordaz Perez meets these constitutional requirements. Because the Constitution sets exclusive eligibility requirements for state representative, the statute relied upon by Fierro does not apply.
In addition, voter registration – or the timing of its effect – is not itself indicative of when a person’s residency has changed. “Timely registration may be grounds for ineligibility,” the Court wrote. “However, we have never held an additional 30 days is required to determine an ‘effective date’ for residency purposes.” Essentially, Fierro’s interpretation would add a 13th month to the constitutional 12-month residency requirement. The Court concluded “either the candidate became an in-district resident” on the date of their voter registration, “or the candidate became an in-district resident before that date but belatedly undated their voter registration.” Either way, Ordaz Perez meets the 12-month residency requirement.
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