With the municipal qualifying deadline tomorrow (Friday, February 5, 2021), some confusion has emerged as to the residency requirement for candidates seeking to run in a particular district or ward.
It has long been held that a candidate for a municipal office was to have been a resident of that municipality for 2 years prior to the date of the election but when it came to a ward or district specific seat there was no specific residency requirement listed.
This means that as long as John Smith was a resident of the city or town for 2 years he could qualify to run for the City Council or Board of Alderman for Ward 1 even if he had not been a resident of Ward 1 for that same 2 year period. He could have lived in Ward 2, but as long as he was a resident of Ward 1 by the date of the election he could run and serve as a Councilman or Alderman for Ward 1.
However, Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office issued an AG Opinion on Monday – 4 days before the qualifying deadline – that changes that understanding and would indicate that being both a resident of the city and the ward for that 2 year period is a requirement.
Mississippi Code Section 23-15-300 states, in part:
(1) Any candidate for any municipal, county or county district office shall be a resident of the municipality, county, county district or other territory that he or she seeks to represent in such office for two (2) years immediately preceding the day of election. The provisions of this section shall not apply to any municipality with less than one thousand (1,000) residents according to the latest federal decennial census.
The AG Opinion provided this interpretation:
“Based on a plain reading of this statute, a candidate for a county district office, which includes the office of supervisor, must meet the two-year residency requirement in the supervisor district he or she seeks to serve.
“In addition, this office is of the opinion that the language “or other territory that he or she seeks to represent in such office” includes municipal wards. Therefore, candidates for a municipal ward office, in a municipality with a population of 1,000 or more, according to the latest federal decennial census, must have been a resident of the ward they seek to serve for a minimum of two years prior to the date of the election.”
Candidates concerned by this opinion should contact their City or Town Clerk to verify their residency.
Legislative attempts have been made to clarify the residency requirement for particular districts or wards before now, but those bills have not been brought forward in prior session, leaving the interpretation on the matter in limbo with municipal clerks’ forced to rely on AG Opinions as guidance when determining residency.
Given the late date of this AG Opinion, it is unclear as to how many potential candidates or municipalities this could impact.