Being homeless, picking oneself up to get a job and find a place to live requires determination and hard work. Barbara Bachmeier was homeless twelve months ago. Now she works in real estate with a place to live. Add in that she is a disabled veteran, and Bachmeier has a compelling story that has turned out well.
Yet it is more complicated than that. Bachmeier thought that she could do more for society so she announced her candidacy for a state house seat. So far so good, until the Alaska Election’s Department received a complaint and determined that Bachmeier did not have a full year of residency in the district.
Bachmeier bought a home 10 months ago. She sought to find an apartment around the Elmendorf-Richardson base where she could get treatment for her stress-related war disabilities. Because she could not find a place to rent that would take animals, Bachmeier lived in her truck for a few months until she found a place. So while it is true that she was homeless, she was homeless willingly. Clearly, her homelessness is not quite the same degree as someone who has no resources or a vehicle, but living without a roof over one’s head is still homelessness. Although her case is unusual, it gives a picture at how difficult it is for those who are forced into homelessness to exercise their basic rights.
Election officials said that they received a complaint from an attorney representing two voters about Bachmeier’s residency. The officials tried to get verification from Bachmeier that she resided in the district because voter records showed her registered at her previous address in Juneau. In addition, what records existed of her in Anchorage had her out of the district. Bachmeier insists that she resided in the district because that is where the veteran health facilities were located. As Bachmann searched for a lawyer to represent herself, election officials removed her from the ballot.
While candidates need to meet residency requirement while seeking office, having a residence should not be a requirement to run for office. While Alaska does allow homeless people the right to vote based on where they sleep, they must have a residence, even if it is a park. The problem is that many homeless people must move about so as not to draw attention and run afoul of the law. Declaring a residence while homeless and living there is not a simple feat.
In a time when legislation is being passed throughout the country to prevent voter fraud, the greater threat to democracy is not the fraud. In fact, there are very few voter fraud cases every election. The greater threat is disenfranchisement. In an attempt to catch fraud, many legitimate voters are losing the right to vote. In the case of Bachmeier, she has lost the right to run for office.
Nowhere in the Constitution does it require a person to have a residence to vote or run for office. Unfortunately, neither does the Constitution guarantee that right. Bachmeier’s story is one that could play out anywhere in the country.
Bachmeier suggested that Gabrielle LeDoux, her primary opponent, is to blame for the complaint that lead to her removal from the ballot. LeDoux said that is irrelevant:
“I actually don’t think that’s a relevant question. I think the only important question is whether or not Barbara Bachmeier was constitutionally eligible to run in this district. And the Division of Elections found that she had not lived in the district long enough. You know, somebody tried to get away with something, but the division didn’t let them do it.”
The irony in this situation is that when LeDoux ran for office two years ago, she also faced questions about her residency. Further making this an unusual case is that Bachmeier was certified to run for office but then stripped of that right. While it is not unheard for a candidate to have a certification denied based on residency, to be certified as a candidate and have that pulled is so rare that no one can think of a similar case.
It is understandable that Bachmeier should prove her residency when she filed to become a candidate. Once that was accepted, the burden should shift to the election officials to prove that she should not be on the ballot. That is not what has happened here. Removing candidates once they have been certified must be on credible, solid evidence barring outright fraud by the candidate. No one is suggesting that Bachmeier did that. Bachmeier’s residency is sufficiently nebulous that the right of the electorate to choose between two candidates should not be left to election officials. At this point, the voters should have had the right to decide.
The only thing that Bachmeier appears to be trying to get away with is exercising her right to vote and seek office. No one has been able to disprove that Bachmeier did not live in the district for those two months in question. Unfortunately, Bachmeier was not able to prove that she was there either.
The right to vote is not a constitutional right. Nowhere in the Constitution is it guaranteed, although there are restrictions on the ways it cannot be denied, such as race, age and sex. However, the Constitution does guarantee the right of the people to choose representatives and senators. The states are left with the powers to determine how that is done. That means Alaska is well within its constitutional powers to limit Bachmeier’s right to run or even vote. Nevertheless, that does not make it right.
The right to vote and run for office is the bedrock upon which democracy is built. For two hundred years, those rights have been expanded by the states and federal government. Today, there are some disturbing signs that those rights are no longer expanding but becoming limited.